Discovering Right and Wrong

LOUIS P. POJMAN Late of the United States Military Academy, West Point

JAMES FIESER University of Tennessee, Martin

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Ethics

Discovering Right and Wrong

E IGHTH ED IT ION

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Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, Eighth Edition

Louis P. Pojman and James Fieser

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About the Authors

Louis P. Pojman (1935–2005) was professor of philosophy, emeritus at the United States Military Academy and a life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. He received an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary/ Columbia University and a D.Phil. from Oxford University. He wrote in the areas of philosophy of religion, epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy and is the author or editor of more than 30 books and 100 articles. Among these are Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong (8/e 2017), Environmental Ethics (7/e 2017), Who Are We? (2005), and Global Political Philosophy (2003).

James Fieser is professor of philosophy at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He received his B.A. from Berea College, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Purdue University. He is author, coauthor, or editor of 10 text books, including Socrates to Sartre and Beyond (9/e 2011), Ethical Theory: Classical and Con- temporary Readings (6/e 2010), A Historical Introduction to Philosophy (2003), and Moral Philosophy Through the Ages (2001). He has edited and annotated the ten- volume Early Responses to Hume (2/e 2005) and the five-volume Scottish Common Sense Philosophy (2000). He is founder and general editor of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Web site (www.iep.utm.edu).

iii

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Contents

PREFACE vii i

1 What Is Ethics? 1

Ethics and Its Subdivisions 1

Morality as Compared with Other Normative Subjects 3

Traits of Moral Principles 6

Domains of Ethical Assessment 7

Conclusion 10

For Further Reflection 11

2 Ethical Relativism 13

Subjective Ethical Relativism 15

Conventional Ethical Relativism 17

Criticisms of Conventional Ethical Relativism 20

Conclusion 25

For Further Reflection 26

3 Moral Objectivism 28

Aquinas’s Objectivism and Absolutism 30

Moderate Objectivism 36

Ethical Situationalism 40

Conclusion 41

For Further Reflection 42

iv

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4 Value and the Quest for the Good 44

Types of Values 45

Foundational Nature of Values 50

The Good Life 55

Conclusion 58

For Further Reflection 59

5 Social Contract Theory and the Motive to Be Moral 61

Why Does Society Need Moral Rules? 63

Why Should I Be Moral? 67

Morality, Self-Interest, and Game Theory 69

The Motive to Always Be Moral 72

Conclusion 75

For Further Reflection 76

6 Egoism, Self-Interest, and Altruism 77

Psychological Egoism 78

Ethical Egoism 82

Arguments Against Ethical Egoism 87

Conclusion 91

For Further Reflection 92

7 Utilitarianism 93

Classic Utilitarianism 95

Act- and Rule-Utilitarianism 98

Criticism of Utilitarianism 101

Criticism of the Ends Justifying Immoral Means 106

Conclusion 110

For Further Reflection 111

8 Kant and Deontological Theories 113

Kant’s Influences 114

The Categorical Imperative 117

Counterexamples to the Principle of the Law of Nature 123

Other Formulations of the Categorical Imperative 125

The Problem of Exceptionless Rules 129

Conclusion: A Reconciliation Project 132

For Further Reflection 134

CONTENTS v

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9 Virtue Theory 135

The Nature of Virtue Ethics 136

Criticisms of Action-Based Ethics 140

Connections Between Virtue-Based and Action-Based Ethics 146

Conclusion 153

For Further Reflection 154

10 Biology and Ethics 155

Moral Behavior in Animals 156

Morality and Human Evolution 161

What Is Left for Traditional Morality? 167

Conclusion 172

For Further Reflection 174

11 Gender and Ethics 175

Classic Views 177

Female Care Ethics 181

Four Options Regarding Gender and Ethics 186

Conclusion 190

For Further Reflection 192

12 Religion and Ethics 194

Does Morality Depend on Religion? 195

Is Religion Irrelevant or Even Contrary to Morality? 200

Does Religion Enhance the Moral Life? 205

Conclusion 210

For Further Reflection 211

13 The Fact–Value Problem 212

Hume and Moore: The Problem Classically Stated 213

Ayer and Emotivism 216

Hare and Prescriptivism 220

Naturalism and the Fact–Value Problem 227

Conclusion 230

For Further Reflection 231

14 Moral Realism and the Challenge of Skepticism 232

Mackie’s Moral Skepticism 234

Harman’s Moral Nihilism 238

vi CONTENTS

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A Defense of Moral Realism 242

Conclusion 245

For Further Reflection 246

APPENDIX 247

GLOSSARY 251

INDEX 255

For more information on an alternate version of this book which contains classic and contemporary philosophical reading selections in the back of the book, please contact your Cengage Learning representative.

CONTENTS vii

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Preface

In 1977, Australian philosopher John L. Mackie published his famous book Ethics:Inventing Right and Wrong, in which he argues that the moral values we hold are inventions of society: “we have to decide what moral views to adopt, what moral stands to take.” The title of the present book Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, is both an acknowledgement of the importance of Mackie’s view and a response to it.

Morality is not purely an invention, as Mackie suggests, but it also involves a discovery. We may compare morality to the development of the wheel. Both are creations based on discoverable features. The wheel was invented to facilitate the transportation of objects with minimal friction. The construction of a wheel adheres to the laws of physics to bring about efficient motion. Not just anything could function as a good wheel. A rectangular or triangular wheel would be inefficient, as would one made out of sand or bird feathers or heavy stones. Ana- logously, morality has been constructed to serve human needs and desires, for example, the need to survive and the desires to prosper and be happy. The ideal morality should serve as the blueprint for individual happiness and social harmony. Human beings have used their best minds over millennia to discover those principles that best serve to promote individual and social well-being. Just as the construction of the wheel is dependent on the laws of physics, so the con- struction of morality has been dependent on human nature, on discoverable fea- tures of our being. It is in this spirit of moral discovery that Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong surveys the main theories of moral philosophy today.

The philosophical community experienced a great loss in 2005 with the death of Louis Pojman, the original author of this book, who succumbed to his battle with cancer. His voluminous writings—over 30 books and 100 articles— have been uniformly praised for their high level of scholarship and insight, and countless philosophy students and teachers have benefited from them (see www. louispojman.com for biographical and bibliographical details).

Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong was first published in 1990 and quickly established itself as an authoritative, yet reader-friendly, introduction to ethics.

viii

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In an earlier preface, Louis expresses his enthusiasm for his subject and his com- mitment to his reader:

I have written this book in the spirit of a quest for truth and under- standing, hoping to excite you about the value of ethics. It is a subject that I love, for it is about how we are to live, about the best kind of life. I hope that you will come to share my enthusiasm for the subject and develop your own ideas in the process.

Over the years, new editions of this book have appeared in response to the con- tinually evolving needs of college instructors and students. Throughout these changes, however, the book has focused on the central issues of ethical theory, which in this edition include chapters on the following 14 subjects, beginning with the more theoretical issues of (1) what ethics is most generally, (2) ethical relativism, (3) moral objectivism, (4) moral value, (5) social contract theory and the motive to be moral, and (6) egoism and altruism. The book next focuses on the influential normative theories of (7) utilitarianism, (8) Kantianism and deon- tology, and (9) virtue theory. Building on these concepts, the last portion of the book explores the more contemporary theoretical debates surrounding (10) biology and ethics, (11) gender and ethics, (12) religion and ethics, (13) the fact–value problem, and (14) moral realism and skepticism.

This newly revised eighth edition attempts to reflect the spirit of change that governed previous editions. As with most textbook revisions, the inclusion of new material in this edition required the deletion of a comparable amount of previously existing material. Many of the changes in this edition were suggested by previous book users, both faculty and students, for which I am very grateful. The most noticeable change is a new chapter on biology and ethics. Many minor changes have been made throughout for clarification and ease of reading.

MINDTAP

MindTap® for Pojman Fieser, Ethics, eighth edition provides you with the tools you need to better manage your limited time—you can complete assign- ments whenever and wherever you are ready to learn with course material spe- cially customized for you by your instructor and streamlined in one proven, easy-to-use interface. With an array of tools and apps—from note-taking to flashcards—you’ll get a true understanding of course concepts, helping you to achieve better grades and setting the groundwork for your future courses.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The preface to the fifth edition of this book lists the following acknowledge- ments, which I present here verbatim:

Michael Beaty, Sterling Harwood, Stephen Kershnar, Bill Lawhead, Michael Levin, Robert Louden, Laura Purdy, Roger Rigterink, Bruce

PREFACE ix

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Russell, Walter Schaller, Bob Westmoreland, and Mark Discher were very helpful in offering trenchant criticisms on several chapters of this book. The students in my ethical theory classes at the University of Mississippi and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for the past 20 years have served as a challenging sounding board for many of my arguments. Ronald F. Duska, Rosemont College; Stephen Griffith, Lycoming College; Arthur Kuflik, University of Vermont; James Lindemann Nelson, Michigan State University; Peter List, Oregon State University; Ann A. Pang-White, University of Scranton; Fred Schueler, University of New Mexico; Nancy A. Stanlick, University of Central Florida; R. Duane Thompson, Indiana Wesleyan University; Peter Vallentyne, Virginia Commonwealth University; and David A. White, Marquette University reviewed the manuscript for an earlier edition and provided guidance in revising this latest edition.

I thank Debra Matteson, Liz Fraser, and the rest of the talented editorial staff at Cengage for their expertise and good nature throughout the production of this new edition. Thanks also to the dozens of ethics instructors who completed an online survey about the text and made valuable suggestions for improvement. Finally, I thank Louis’s wife, Trudy Pojman, for her gracious encouragement with this project.

James Fieser August 1, 2015

x PREFACE

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1

What Is Ethics?

S ome years ago, the nation was stunned by a report from New York City.A young woman, Kitty Genovese, was brutally stabbed in her own neighbor- hood late at night during three separate attacks while 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens watched or listened. During the 35-minute struggle, her assailant beat her, stabbed her, left her, and then returned to attack her two more times until she died. No one lifted a phone to call the police; no one shouted at the criminal, let alone went to Genovese’s aid. Finally, a 70-year-old woman called the police. It took them just two minutes to arrive, but by that time Genovese was already dead.

Only one other woman came out to testify before the ambulance showed up an hour later. Then residents from the whole neighborhood poured out of their apartments. When asked why they hadn’t done anything, they gave answers ranging from “I don’t know” and “I was tired” to “Frankly, we were afraid.”1

This tragic event raises many questions about our moral responsibility to others. What should these respectable citizens have done? Are such acts of omis- sion morally blameworthy? Is the Genovese murder an atypical situation, or does it represent a disturbing trend? This story also raises important questions about the general notion of morality. What is the nature of morality, and why do we need it? What is the Good, and how will we know it? Is it in our interest to be moral? What is the relationship between morality and religion? What is the rela- tionship between morality and law? What is the relationship between morality and etiquette? These are some of the questions that we explore in this book.

ETH ICS AND ITS SUBDIV IS IONS

Ethics is that branch of philosophy that deals with how we ought to live, with the idea of the Good, and with concepts such as “right” and “wrong.” But what is

1

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philosophy? It is an enterprise that begins with wonder at the marvels and mysteries of the world; that pursues a rational investigation of those marvels and mysteries, seeking wisdom and truth; and that results in a life lived in passionate moral and intellectual integrity. Taking as its motto Socrates’ famous statement “The unex- amined life is not worth living,” philosophy leaves no aspect of life untouched by its inquiry. It aims at a clear, critical, comprehensive conception of reality.

The main characteristic of philosophy is rational argument. Philosophers clarify concepts and analyze and test propositions and beliefs, but their major task is to con- struct and analyze arguments. Philosophical reasoning is closely allied with scientific reasoning, in that both build hypotheses and look for evidence to test those hypoth- eses with the hope of coming closer to the truth. However, scientific experiments take place in laboratories and have testing procedures to record objective or empiri- cally verifiable results. The laboratory of the philosopher is the domain of ideas. It takes place in the mind, where imaginative thought experiments occur. It takes place in the study room, where ideas are written down and examined. It also takes place wherever conversation or debate about the perennial questions arises, where thesis and counterexample and counterthesis are considered.

A word must be said about the specific terms moral and ethical and the asso- ciated notions of morals and ethics. Often these terms are used interchangeably—as will be the case in this book. Both terms derive their meaning from the idea of “custom”—that is, normal behavior. Specifically, “moral” comes from the Latin word mores and “ethical” from the Greek ethos.

The study of ethics within philosophy contains its own subdivisions, and dividing up the territory of ethics is tricky. The key divisions are (1) descriptive morality, (2) moral philosophy (ethical theory), and (3) applied ethics. First, descriptive morality refers to actual beliefs, customs, principles, and practices of people and cultures. Sociologists in particular pay special attention to the con- crete moral practices of social groups around the world, and they view them as cultural “facts,” much like facts about what people in those countries eat or how they dress. Second, moral philosophy—also called ethical theory—refers to the systematic effort to understand moral concepts and justify moral principles and theories. It analyzes key ethical concepts such as “right,” “wrong,” and “permissible.” It explores possible sources of moral obligation such as God, human reason, or the desire to be happy. It seeks to establish principles of right behavior that may serve as action guides for individuals and groups. Third, applied ethics deals with controversial moral problems such as abortion, pre- marital sex, capital punishment, euthanasia, and civil disobedience.

The larger study of ethics, then, draws on all three of these subdivisions, connecting them in important ways. For example, moral philosophy is very much interrelated with applied ethics, and here will be a difference in the quality of debates about abortion and other such issues when those discussions are informed by ethical theories. More light and less heat will be the likely outcome. With the onset of multiculturalism and the deep differences in worldviews around the globe today, the need to use reason, rather than violence, to settle our disputes and resolve conflicts of interest has become obvious. Ethical aware- ness is the necessary condition for human survival and flourishing.

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The study of ethics is not only of instrumental value but also valuable in its own right. It is satisfying to have knowledge of important matters for its own sake, and it is important to understand the nature and scope of moral theory for its own sake. We are rational beings who cannot help but want to understand the nature of the good life and all that it implies. The study of ethics is some- times a bit off-putting because so many differing theories often appear to contra- dict each other and thus produce confusion rather than guidance. But an appreciation of the complexity of ethics is valuable in counteracting our natural tendency toward inflexibility and tribalism where we stubbornly adhere to the values of our specific peer groups.

MORAL ITY AS COMPARED WITH OTHER

NORMATIVE SUBJECTS

Moral principles concern standards of behavior; roughly speaking, they involve not what is but what ought to be. How should I live my life? What is the right thing to do in this situation? Is premarital sex morally permissible? Ought a woman ever to have an abortion? Morality has a distinct action-guiding, or nor- mative, aspect, which it shares with other practices such as religion, law, and eti- quette. Let’s see how morality differs from each of these.

Religion

Consider first the relation between morality and religion. Moral behavior, as defined by a given religion, is usually believed to be essential to that religion’s practice. But neither the practices nor principles of morality should be identified with religion. The practice of morality need not be motivated by religious con- siderations, and moral principles need not be grounded in revelation or divine authority—as religious teachings invariably are. The most important characteristic of ethics is its grounding in reason and human experience.

To use a spatial metaphor, secular ethics is horizontal, lacking a vertical or higher dimension; as such it does not receive its authority from “on high.” But religious ethics, being grounded in revelation or divine authority, has that vertical dimension although religious ethics generally uses reason to supplement or complement revela- tion. These two differing orientations often generate different moral principles and standards of evaluation, but they need not do so. Some versions of religious ethics, which posit God’s revelation of the moral law in nature or conscience, hold that rea- son can discover what is right or wrong even apart from divine revelation.

Law

Consider next the close relationship between morality and law. Many laws are instituted in order to promote well-being, resolve conflicts of interest, and pro- mote social harmony, just as morality does. However, ethics may judge that

WHAT I S ETH ICS? 3

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some laws are immoral without denying that they have legal authority. For example, laws may permit slavery, spousal abuse, racial discrimination, or sexual discrimination, but these are immoral practices.

In a PBS television series, Ethics in America, a trial lawyer was asked what he would do if he discovered that his client had committed a murder some years earlier for which another man had been wrongly convicted and would soon be executed.2 The lawyer said that he had a legal obligation to keep this informa- tion confidential and that, if he divulged it, he would be disbarred. It is arguable that he has a moral obligation that overrides his legal obligation and demands that he act to save the innocent man from execution.

Furthermore, some aspects of morality are not covered by law. For example, although it is generally agreed that lying is usually immoral, there is no general law against it—except under such special conditions as committing perjury or falsifying income tax returns. Sometimes college newspapers publish advertise- ments by vendors who offer “research assistance,” despite knowing in advance that these vendors will aid and abet plagiarism. Publishing such ads is legal, but its moral correctness is doubtful.

Similarly, the 38 people who watched the attacks on Kitty Genovese and did nothing to intervene broke no New York law, but they were very likely morally responsible for their inaction. In our legal tradition, there is no general duty to rescue a person in need. In 1908, the dean of Harvard Law School pro- posed that a person should be required to “save another from impending death or great bodily harm, when he might do so with little or no inconvenience to himself.” The proposal was defeated, and one of its opponents posed the ques- tion of whether a rich person, to whom $20 meant very little, be legally obliged to save the life of a hungry child in a foreign land? Currently, only Vermont and Minnesota have “Good Samaritan” laws, requiring that one come to the aid of a person in grave physical harm but only to the extent that the aid “can be ren- dered without danger or peril to himself or without interference with important duties owed to others.”

There is another major difference between law and morality. In 1351, King Edward of England instituted a law against treason that made it a crime merely to think homicidal thoughts about the king. But, alas, the law could not be enforced, for no tribunal can search the heart and discover the intentions of the mind. It is true that intention, such as malice aforethought, plays a role in deter- mining the legal character of an act once the act has been committed. But, pre- emptive punishment for people who are presumed to have bad intentions is illegal. If malicious intentions by themselves were illegal, wouldn’t we all deserve imprisonment? Even if one could detect others’ intentions, when should the punishment be administered? As soon as the offender has the intention? How do we know that the offender won’t change his or her mind?

Although it is impractical to have laws against bad intentions, these inten- tions are still morally wrong. Suppose I buy a gun with the intention of killing Uncle Charlie to inherit his wealth, but I never get a chance to fire it (for exam- ple, suppose Uncle Charlie moves to Australia). Although I have not committed a crime, I have committed a moral wrong.

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Etiquette

Lastly, consider the relation between morality and etiquette. Etiquette concerns form and style rather than the essence of social existence; it determines what is polite behavior rather than what is right behavior in a deeper sense. It represents society’s decision as to how we are to dress, greet one another, eat, celebrate festivals, dispose of the dead, express gratitude and appreciation, and, in general, carry out social transactions. Whether people greet each other with a handshake, a bow, a hug, or a kiss on the cheek depends on their social system. Russians wear their wedding rings on the third finger of their right hands, whereas Amer- icans wear them on their left hands. The English hold their forks in their left hands, whereas people in other countries are more likely to hold them in their right hands. People in India typically eat without a fork at all, using the fingers of their right hands to deliver food from their plate to their mouth. In and of them- selves, none of these rituals has any moral superiority. Polite manners grace our social existence, but they are not what social existence is about. They help social transactions to flow smoothly but are not the substance of those transactions.

At the same time, it can be immoral to disregard or defy etiquette. Whether to shake hands when greeting a person for the first time or put one’s hands together in front as one bows, as people in India do, is a matter of cultural deci- sion. But, once the custom is adopted, the practice takes on the importance of a moral rule, subsumed under the wider principle of showing respect to people.

Similarly, there is no moral necessity to wear clothes, but we have adopted the custom partly to keep warm in colder climates and partly to be modest. Accordingly, there may be nothing wrong with nudists who decide to live together in nudist colonies. However, for people to go nude outside of nudist colonies—say, in classrooms, stores, and along the road—may well be so offen- sive that it is morally insensitive. There was a scandal on the beaches of South India where American tourists swam in bikinis, shocking the more modest Indians. There was nothing immoral in itself about wearing bikinis, but given the cultural context, the Americans willfully violated etiquette and were guilty of moral impropriety.

Although Americans pride themselves on tolerance, pluralism, and awareness of other cultures, custom and etiquette can be—even among people from similar backgrounds—a bone of contention. A Unitarian minister tells of an experience early in his marriage. He and his wife were hosting their first Thanksgiving meal. He had been used to small celebrations with his immediate family, whereas his wife had been used to grand celebrations. He writes, “I had been asked to carve, something I had never done before, but I was willing. I put on an apron, entered the kitchen, and attacked the bird with as much artistry as I could muster. And what reward did I get? [My wife] burst into tears. In her family the turkey is brought to the table, laid before the [father], grace is said, and then he carves! ‘So I fail patriarchy,’ I hollered later. ‘What do you expect?’ ”3

Law, etiquette, and religion are all important institutions, but each has lim- itations. A limitation of religious commands is that they rest on authority, and we may lack certainty or agreement about the authority’s credentials or how the

WHAT I S ETH ICS? 5

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authority would rule in ambiguous or new cases. Because religion is founded not on reason but on revelation, you cannot use reason to convince someone from another religion that your view is the right one. A limitation of law is that you can’t have a law against every social problem, nor can you enforce every desir- able rule. A limitation of etiquette is that it doesn’t get to the heart of what is vitally important for personal and social existence. Whether or not one eats with one’s fingers pales in significance with the importance of being honest, trustwor- thy, or just. Etiquette is a cultural invention, but morality is more like a discovery.

In summary, morality differs from law and etiquette by going deeper into the essence of our social existence. It differs from religion by seeking reasons, rather than authority, to justify its principles. The central purpose of moral phi- losophy is to secure valid principles of conduct and values that can guide human actions and produce good character. As such, it is the most important activity we know, for it concerns how we are to live.

TRAITS OF MORAL PR INC IPLES

A central feature of morality is the moral principle. We have already noted that moral principles are guides for action, but we must say more about the traits of such principles. Although there is no universal agreement on the characteristics a moral principle must have, there is a wide consensus about five features: (1) pre- scriptivity, (2) universalizability, (3) overridingness, (4) publicity, and (5) practica- bility. Several of these will be examined in chapters throughout this book, but let’s briefly consider them here.

First is prescriptivity, which is the commanding aspect of morality. Moral principles are generally put forth as commands or imperatives, such as “Do not kill,” “Do no unnecessary harm,” and “Love your neighbor.” They are intended for use: to advise people and influence action. Prescriptivity shares this trait with all normative discourse and is used to appraise behavior, assign praise and blame, and produce feelings of satisfaction or guilt.

Second is universalizability. Moral principles must apply to all people who are in a relevantly similar situation. If I judge that an act is right for a certain person, then that act is right for any other relevantly similar person. This trait is exemplified in the Golden Rule, “Do to others what you would want them to do to you.” We also see it in the formal principle of justice: It cannot be right for you to treat me in a manner in which it would be wrong for me to treat you, merely on the ground that we are two different individuals.4

Universalizability applies to all evaluative judgments. If I say that X is a good thing, then I am logically committed to judge that anything relevantly similar to X is a good thing. This trait is an extension of the principle of consistency: we ought to be consistent about our value judgments, including one’s moral judg- ments. Take any act that you are contemplating doing and ask, “Could I will that everyone act according to this principle?”

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Third is overridingness. Moral principles have predominant authority and override other kinds of principles. They are not the only principles, but they take precedence over other considerations, including aesthetic, prudential, and legal ones. The artist Paul Gauguin may have been aesthetically justified in abandon- ing his family to devote his life to painting beautiful Pacific Island pictures, but morally he probably was not justified, and so he probably should not have done it. It may be prudent to lie to save my reputation, but it probably is morally wrong to do so. When the law becomes egregiously immoral, it may be my moral duty to exercise civil disobedience. There is a general moral duty to obey the law because the law serves an overall moral purpose, and this overall purpose may give us moral reasons to obey laws that may not be moral or ideal. There may come a time, however, when the injustice of a bad law is intolerable and hence calls for illegal but moral defiance. A good example would be laws in the South prior to the Civil War requiring citizens to return runaway slaves to their owners.

Fourth is publicity. Moral principles must be made public in order to guide our actions. Publicity is necessary because we use principles to prescribe behav- ior, give advice, and assign praise and blame. It would be self-defeating to keep them a secret.

Fifth is practicability. A moral principle must have practicability, which means that it must be workable and its rules must not lay a heavy burden on us when we follow them. The philosopher John Rawls speaks of the “strains of commitment” that overly idealistic principles may cause in average moral agents.5 It might be desirable for morality to require more selfless behavior from us, but the result of such principles could be moral despair, deep or undue moral guilt, and ineffective action. Accordingly, most ethical systems take human limitations into consideration.

Although moral philosophers disagree somewhat about these five traits, the above discussion offers at least an idea of the general features of moral principles.

DOMAINS OF ETH ICAL ASSESSMENT

At this point, it might seem that ethics concerns itself entirely with rules of con- duct that are based solely on evaluating acts. However, it is more complicated than that. Most ethical analysis falls into one or more of the following domains: (1) action, (2) consequences, (3) character traits, and (4) motive. Again, all these domains will be examined in detail in later chapters, but an overview here will be helpful.

Let’s examine these domains using an altered version of the Kitty Genovese story. Suppose a man attacks a woman in front of her apartment and is about to kill her. A responsible neighbor hears the struggle, calls the police, and shouts from the window, “Hey you, get out of here!” Startled by the neighbor’s repri- mand, the attacker lets go of the woman and runs down the street where he is caught by the police.

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Action

One way of ethically assessing this situation is to examine the actions of both the attacker and the good neighbor: The attacker’s actions were wrong whereas the neighbor’s actions were right. The term right has two meanings. Sometimes, it means “obligatory” (as in “the right act”), but it also can mean “permissible” (as in “a right act” or “It’s all right to do that”). Usually, philosophers define right as permissible, including in that category what is obligatory:

1. A right act is an act that is permissible for you to do. It may be either (a) obligatory or (b) optional. a. An obligatory act is one that morality requires you to do; it is not

permissible for you to refrain from doing it. b. An optional act is one that is neither obligatory nor wrong to do. It is

not your duty to do it, nor is it your duty not to do it. Neither doing it nor not doing it would be wrong.

2. A wrong act is one you have an obligation, or a duty, to refrain from doing: It is an act you ought not to do; it is not permissible to do it.

In our example, the attacker’s assault on the woman was clearly a wrong action (prohibited); by contrast, the neighbor’s act of calling the police was clearly a right action—and an obligatory one at that.

But, some acts do not seem either obligatory or wrong. Whether you take a course in art history or English literature or whether you write a letter with a pencil or pen seems morally neutral. Either is permissible. Whether you listen to rock music or classical music is not usually considered morally significant. Lis- tening to both is allowed, and neither is obligatory. Whether you marry or remain single is an important decision about how to live your life. The decision you reach, however, is usually considered morally neutral or optional. Under most circumstances, to marry (or not to marry) is considered neither obligatory nor wrong but permissible.

Within the range of permissible acts is the notion of supererogatory acts, or highly altruistic acts. These acts are neither required nor obligatory, but they exceed what morality requires, going “beyond the call of duty.” For example, suppose the responsible neighbor ran outside to actually confront the attacker rather than simply shout at him from the window. Thus, the neighbor would assume an extra risk that would not be morally required. Similarly, while you may be obligated to give a donation to help people in dire need, you would not be obligated to sell your car, let alone become impoverished yourself, to help them. The complete scheme of acts, then, is this:

1. Right act (permissible) a. Obligatory act b. Optional act

(1) Neutral act (2) Supererogatory act

2. Wrong act (not permissible)

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One important kind of ethical theory that emphasizes the nature of the act is called deontological (from the Greek word deon, meaning “duty”). These theories hold that something is inherently right or good about such acts as truth telling and promise keeping and inherently wrong or bad about such acts as lying and promise breaking. Classical deontological ethical principles include the Ten Command- ments and the Golden Rule. The leading proponent of deontological ethics in recent centuries is Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), who defended a principle of moral duty that he calls the categorical imperative: “Act only on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.” Examples for Kant are “Never break your promise” and “Never commit suicide.” What all of these deontological theories and principles have in common is the view that we have an inherent duty to perform right actions and avoid bad actions.

Consequences

Another way of ethically assessing situations is to examine the consequences of an action: If the consequences are on balance positive, then the action is right; if negative, then wrong. In our example, take the consequences of the attacker’s actions. At minimum he physically harms the woman and psychologically trau- matizes both her and her neighbors; if he succeeds in killing her, then he emo- tionally devastates her family and friends, perhaps for life. And what does he gain from this? Just a temporary experience of sadistic pleasure. On balance, his action has overwhelmingly negative consequences and thus is wrong. Examine next the consequences of the responsible neighbor who calls the police and shouts down from the window “Hey you, get out of here!” This scares off the attacker, thus limiting the harm of his assault. What does the neighbor lose by doing this? Just a temporary experience of fear, which the neighbor might have experienced any- way. On balance, then, the neighbor’s action has overwhelmingly positive con- sequences, which makes it the right thing to do.

Ethical theories that focus primarily on consequences in determining moral rightness and wrongness are sometimes called teleological ethics (from the Greek telos, meaning “goal directed”). The most famous of these theories is utili- tarianism, set forth by Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806– 1873), which requires us to do what is likeliest to have the best consequences. In Mill’s words, “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”

Character Traits

Whereas some ethical theories emphasize the nature of actions in themselves and some emphasize principles involving the consequences of actions, other theories emphasize a person’s character trait, or virtue. In our example, the attacker has an especially bad character trait—namely, malevolence—which taints his entire out- look on life and predisposes him to act in harmful ways. The attacker is a bad person principally for having this bad character trait of malevolence. The respon- sible neighbor, on the other hand, has a good character trait, which directs his

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outlook on life—namely, benevolence, which is the tendency to treat people with kindness and assist those in need. Accordingly, the neighbor is a good per- son largely for possessing this good trait.

Moral philosophers call such good character traits virtues and bad traits vices. Entire theories of morality have been developed from these notions and are called virtue theories. The classic proponent of virtue theory was Aristotle (384–322 BCE), who maintained that the development of virtuous character traits is needed to ensure that we habitually act rightly. Although it may be help- ful to have action-guiding rules, it is vital to empower our character with the tendency to do good. Many people know that cheating, gossiping, or overindul- ging in food or alcohol is wrong, but they are incapable of doing what is right. Virtuous people spontaneously do the right thing and may not even consciously follow moral rules when doing so.

Motive

Finally, we can ethically assess situations by examining the motive of the people involved. The attacker intended to brutalize and kill the woman; the neighbor intended to thwart the attacker and thereby help the woman. Virtually all ethical systems recognize the importance of motives. For a full assessment of any action, it is important to take the agent’s motive into account. Two acts may appear identical on the surface, but one may be judged morally blameworthy and the other excusable. Consider John’s pushing Mary off a ledge, causing her to break her leg. In situation (A), he is angry and intends to harm her, but in situation (B) he sees a knife flying in her direction and intends to save her life. In (A) he clearly did the wrong thing, whereas in (B) he did the right thing. A full moral description of any act will take motive into account as a relevant factor.

CONCLUS ION

The study of ethics has enormous practical benefits. It can free us from prejudice and dogmatism. It sets forth comprehensive systems from which to orient our indi- vidual judgments. It carves up the moral landscape so that we can sort out the issues to think more clearly and confidently about moral problems. It helps us clarify in our minds just how our principles and values relate to one another, and, most of all, it gives us some guidance in how to live. Let’s return to questions posed at the beginning of this chapter, some of which we should now be able to better answer.

What is the nature of morality, and why do we need it? Morality concerns discovering the rules that promote the human good, as elaborated in the five traits of moral principles: prescriptivity, universalizability, overridingness, public- ity, and practicability. Without morality, we cannot promote that good.

What is the good, and how will I know it? The good in question is the human good, specified as happiness, reaching one’s potential, and so forth.

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Whatever we decide on that fulfills human needs and helps us develop our dee- pest potential is the good that morality promotes.

Is it in my interest to be moral? Yes, in general and in the long run, for morality is exactly the set of rules most likely to help (nearly) all of us, if nearly all of us follow them nearly all of the time. The good is good for you—at least most of the time. Furthermore, if we believe in the superior importance of morality, then we will bring children up so that they will be unhappy when they break the moral code. They will feel guilt. In this sense, the commitment to morality and its internalization nearly guarantee that if you break the moral rules you will suffer.

What is the relationship between morality and religion? Religion relies more on revelation, and morality relies more on reason, on rational reflection. But, religion can provide added incentive for the moral life for those who believe that God sees and will judge all our actions.

What is the relationship between morality and law? Morality and law should be very close, and morality should be the basis of the law, but there can be both unjust laws and immoral acts that cannot be legally enforced. The law is shal- lower than morality and has a harder time judging human motives and inten- tions. You can be morally evil, intending to do evil things, but as long as you don’t do them, you are legally innocent.

What is the relationship between morality and etiquette? Etiquette consists in the customs of a culture, but they are typically morally neutral in that the culture could flourish with a different code of etiquette. In our culture, we eat with knives and forks, but a culture that eats with chopsticks or fingers is no less moral.

NOTES

1. Martin Gansberg, “38 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police,” New York Times, March 27, 1964.

2. Ethics in America, PBS, 1989, produced by Fred Friendly.

3. John Buehrens and Forrester Church, Our Chosen Faith (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), p. 140.

4. Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1907), p. 380.

5. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 176, 423.

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

1. Consider the Kitty Genovese story and what you think a responsible neighbor should have done. Are there any situations in which the neighbors might be morally justified in doing nothing?

Additional questions online

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content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

2. The study of philosophy involves three main divisions: descriptive morality, moral philosophy, and applied ethics. Explain how these three divisions interrelate with a moral issue such as abortion, euthanasia, or capital punishment.

3. Illustrate the difference between a moral principle, a religious principle, a legal rule, a principle of etiquette. Are these sometimes related?

4. Take a moral principle such as “Don’t steal” and analyze it according to the five traits of moral principles.

5. French painter Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) gave up his job as a banker and abandoned his wife and children to pursue a career as an artist. He moved to Martinique and later to Tahiti, eventually becoming one of the most famous postimpressionist artists in the world. Did Gauguin do what was morally permissible? Discuss this from the perspective of the four domains of ethical assessment.

6. Siddhartha Gautama (560–480 BCE), appalled by the tremendous and per- vasive suffering in the world, abandoned his wife and child to seek enlight- enment. He eventually attained enlightenment and became known as the Buddha. Is there a moral difference between Gauguin and the Buddha?

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2

Ethical Relativism

I n the nineteenth century, Christian missionaries sometimes used coercion tochange the customs of pagan tribal people in parts of Africa and the Pacific Islands. Appalled by the customs of public nakedness, polygamy, working on the Sabbath, and infanticide, they went about reforming the “poor pagans.” They clothed them, separated wives from their husbands to create monogamous households, made the Sabbath a day of rest, and ended infanticide. In the pro- cess, they sometimes created social disruption, causing the women to despair and their children to be orphaned. The natives often did not understand the new religion but accepted it because of the white man’s power of guns and medicine.

Since the nineteenth century, we’ve made progress in understanding cultural diversity and now realize that the social conflict caused by such “do-gooders” was a bad thing. In the last century or so, anthropology has exposed our fondness for ethnocentrism, the prejudicial view that interprets all of reality through the eyes of one’s own cultural beliefs and values. We have come to see enormous variety in social practices throughout the world. Here are a few examples.

Eskimos allow their elderly to die by starvation, whereas we believe that this is morally wrong. The Spartans of ancient Greece and the Dobu of New Guinea believe that stealing is morally right, but we believe that it is wrong. Many cul- tures, past and present, have practiced or still practice infanticide.

A tribe in East Africa once threw deformed infants to the hippopotamus, but our society condemns such acts. Sexual practices vary over time and from place to place. Some cultures permit homosexual behavior, whereas others condemn it. Some cultures practice polygamy, whereas Christian cultures view it as immoral. Anthropologist Ruth Benedict describes a tribe in Melanesia that views cooperation and kindness as vices, and anthropologist Colin Turnbull has

13

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documented that a tribe in northern Uganda has no sense of duty toward its children or parents. There are societies that make it a duty for children to kill their aging parents, sometimes by strangling.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus (485–430 BCE) told the story of how Darius, the king of Persia, once brought together some Callatians (Asian tribal people) and some Greeks. He asked the Callatians how they disposed of their deceased parents. They explained that they ate the bodies. The Greeks, who cre- mated their parents, were horrified at such barbarous behavior and begged Darius to cease from such irreverent discussion. Herodotus concluded that “Custom is the king over all.”1

Today, we condemn ethnocentrism as a form of prejudice equivalent to rac- ism and sexism. What is right in one culture may be wrong in another, what is good east of the river may be bad west of the same river, what is virtue in one nation may be seen as a vice in another, so it is fitting for us not to judge others but to be tolerant of diversity.

This rejection of ethnocentrism in the West has contributed to a general shift in public opinion about morality so that for a growing number of Westerners consciousness raising about the validity of other ways of life has led to a gradual erosion of belief in moral objectivism, the view that there are universal and objective moral principles valid for all people and social environ- ments. For example, in polls taken in my philosophy classes over the past several years, students affirmed by a two-to-one ratio a version of moral relativism over moral objectivism, with barely 3 percent seeing something in between these two polar opposites. A few students claim to hold the doctrine of ethical nihilism; the doctrine that no valid moral principles exist, that morality is a complete fic- tion. Of course, I am not suggesting that all these students have a clear under- standing of what relativism entails, for many of those who say they are ethical relativists also state on the same questionnaire that “abortion, except to save a woman’s life, is always wrong,” that “capital punishment is always morally wrong,” or that “suicide is never morally permissible.” The apparent contradic- tions signal some confusion on the matter.

In this chapter, we examine the central notions of ethical relativism and look at the implications that seem to follow from it. There are two main forms of ethical relativism as defined here:

Subjective ethical relativism (subjectivism): All moral principles are justified by virtue of their acceptance by an individual agent him- or herself.

Conventional ethical relativism (conventionalism): All moral princi- ples are justified by virtue of their cultural acceptance.

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Both versions hold that there are no objective moral principles but that such principles are human inventions. Where they differ, though, is with the issue of whether they are inventions of individual agents themselves or of larger social groups. We begin with the first of these, which is the more radical of the two positions.

SUBJECT IVE ETH ICAL RELAT IV ISM

Some people think that morality depends directly on the individual—not on one’s culture and certainly not on an objective value. As my students sometimes maintain, “Morality is in the eye of the beholder.” They treat morality like taste or aesthetic judgments, which are person relative. Ernest Hemingway wrote,

So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after and judged by these moral standards, which I do not defend, the bullfight is very moral to me because I feel very fine while it is going on and have a feeling of life and death and mortality and immortality, and after it is over I feel very sad but very fine.2

This extreme form of moral subjectivism has the consequence that it weak- ens morality’s practical applications: On its premises, little or no interpersonal criticism or judgment is possible. Hemingway may feel good about killing bulls in a bullfight, whereas Saint Francis or Mother Teresa would no doubt feel the opposite. No argument about the matter is possible. Suppose you are repulsed by observing a man torturing a child. You cannot condemn him if one of his prin- ciples is “Torture little children for the fun of it.” The only basis for judging him wrong might be that he was a hypocrite who condemned others for torturing. However, one of his or Hemingway’s principles could be that hypocrisy is mor- ally permissible (he “feels very fine” about it), so it would be impossible for him to do wrong. For Hemingway, hypocrisy and nonhypocrisy are both morally permissible (except, perhaps, when he doesn’t feel very fine about it).

On the basis of subjectivism, Adolf Hitler and the serial murderer Ted Bundy could be considered as moral as Gandhi, as long as each lived by his own standards whatever those might be. Witness the following paraphrase of a tape-recorded conversation between Ted Bundy and one of his victims, in which Bundy justifies his murder:

Then I learned that all moral judgments are “value judgments,” that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong.” I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured out for myself—what apparently the Chief Justice couldn’t figure out for himself—that if the rationality of one value

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judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any “reason” to obey the law for any- one, like myself, who has the boldness and daring—the strength of character—to throw off its shackles…. I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable “value judgment” that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these “others”? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlight- enment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as “moral” or “good” and others as “immoral” or “bad”? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no com- parison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the plea- sure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me—after the most consci- entious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.3

Notions of good and bad or right and wrong cease to have evaluative mean- ing beyond the individual. We might be revulsed by Bundy’s views, but that is just a matter of taste.

In the opening days of my philosophy classes, I often find students vehe- mently defending subjective relativism: “Who are you to judge?” they ask. I then give them their first test. In the next class period, I return all the tests, marked “F,” even though my comments show that most of them are of a very high caliber. When the students express outrage at this (some have never before seen that letter on their papers and inquire about its meaning), I answer that I have accepted subjectivism for marking the exams. “But that’s unjust!” they typ- ically insist—and then they realize that they are no longer being merely subjec- tivist about ethics.

Absurd consequences follow from subjectivism. If it is correct, then morality reduces to something like aesthetic tastes about which there can be neither argu- ment nor interpersonal judgment. A contradiction seems to exist between sub- jectivism and the very concept of morality, which it is supposed to characterize, for morality has to do with proper resolution of interpersonal conflict and the improvement of the human predicament. Whatever else it does, morality has a minimal aim of preventing a Hobbesian state of nature in which life is “soli- tary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” But if so, then subjectivism is no help at all, for it rests neither on social agreement of principle (as the conventionalist main- tains) nor on an objectively independent set of norms that binds all people for the common good. If there were only one person on earth, then there would be no occasion for morality because there would not be any interpersonal conflicts to resolve or others whose suffering that he or she would have a duty to

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improve. Subjectivism implicitly assumes moral solipsism, a view that isolated individuals make up separate universes.

Subjectivism treats individuals as billiard balls on a societal pool table where they meet only in radical collisions, each aimed at his or her own goal and striv- ing to do the others in before they do him or her in. This view of personality is contradicted by the facts that we develop in families and mutually dependent communities—in which we share a common language, common institutions, and similar rituals and habits—and that we often feel one another’s joys and sor- rows. As John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”

Subjective ethical relativism, then, is incoherent, and it thus seems that the only plausible view of ethical relativism must be one that grounds morality in the group or culture. Thus, we turn now to conventional ethical relativism.

CONVENT IONAL ETH ICAL RELAT IV ISM

Again, conventional ethical relativism, also called conventionalism, is the view that all moral principles are justified by virtue of their cultural acceptance. There are no universally valid moral principles, but rather all such principles are valid relative to culture or individual choice. This view recognizes the social nature of morality, which is the theory’s key asset. It does not seem subject to the same absurd consequences that plague subjectivism. Recognizing the impor- tance of our social environment in generating customs and beliefs, many people suppose that ethical relativism is the correct theory. Furthermore, they are drawn to it for its liberal philosophical stance. It seems to be an enlightened response to the arrogance of ethnocentricity, and it seems to imply an attitude of tolerance toward other cultures.

The Diversity and Dependency Theses

John Ladd gives a typical characterization of the theory:

Ethical relativism is the doctrine that the moral rightness and wrongness of actions varies from society to society and that there are no absolute universal moral standards binding on all men at all times. Accordingly, it holds that whether or not it is right for an individual to act in a certain way depends on or is relative to the society to which he belongs.4

If we analyze this passage, we find two distinct theses that are central to con- ventional ethical relativism:

Diversity thesis. What is considered morally right and wrong varies from society to society, so there are no universal moral standards held by all societies.

Dependency thesis. All moral principles derive their validity from cultural acceptance.

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The diversity thesis is simply an anthropological thesis acknowledging that moral rules differ from society to society; it is sometimes referred to as cultural relativism. As we illustrated earlier in this chapter, there is enormous variety in what may count as a moral principle in a given society. The human condition is flexible in the extreme, allowing any number of folkways or moral codes. As Ruth Benedict has written,

The cultural pattern of any civilization makes use of a certain segment of the great arc of potential human purposes and motivations, just as we have seen … that any culture makes use of certain selected material techniques or cultural traits. The great arc along which all the possible human behaviors are distributed is far too immense and too full of contradictions for any one culture to utilize even any considerable por- tion of it. Selection is the first requirement.5

It may or may not be the case that there is no single moral principle held in common by every society, but if there are any, they seem to be few, at best. Certainly, it would be very hard to derive one single “true” morality on the basis of observation of various societies’ moral standards.

The second element of conventional ethical relativism—the dependency thesis—asserts that individual acts are right or wrong depending on the nature of the society in which they occur. Morality does not exist in a vacuum; rather, what is considered morally right or wrong must be seen in a context that depends on the goals, wants, beliefs, history, and environment of the society in question. As William Graham Sumner says,

We learn the [morals] as unconsciously as we learn to walk and hear and breathe, and [we] never know any reason why the [morals] are what they are. The justification of them is that when we wake to conscious- ness of life we find them facts which already hold us in the bonds of tradition, custom, and habit.6

Trying to see things from an independent, noncultural point of view would be like taking out our eyes to examine their contours and qualities. We are sim- ply culturally determined beings.

In a sense, we all live in radically different worlds. Each person has a differ- ent set of beliefs and experiences, a particular perspective that colors all of his or her perceptions. Do the farmer, the real estate dealer, and the artist looking at the same spatiotemporal field actually see the same thing? Not likely. Their dif- ferent orientations, values, and expectations govern their perceptions, so different aspects of the field are highlighted and some features are missed. Even as our individual values arise from personal experience, so social values are grounded in the particular history of the community. Morality, then, is just the set of com- mon rules, habits, and customs that have won social approval over time so that they seem part of the nature of things, like facts. There is nothing mysterious about these codes of behavior. They are the outcomes of our social history.

There is something conventional about any morality, so every morality really depends on a level of social acceptance. Not only do various societies adhere to

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different moral systems, but the very same society could (and often does) change its moral views over time and place. For example, in the southern United States, slavery is now viewed as immoral, whereas just over one hundred fifty years ago, it was not. We have greatly altered our views on abortion, divorce, and sexuality as well.

Conventional Ethical Relativism and Tolerance

Defenders of conventional ethical relativism often advertise another benefit of their theory: It supports the value of tolerance. As the anthropologist Ruth Benedict says, in recognizing ethical relativity, “We shall arrive at a more realistic social faith, accepting as grounds of hope and as new bases for tolerance the coexisting and equally valid patterns of life which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence.”7

Consider this example. In parts of northern Africa, many girls undergo female circumcision, cutting out their external genitalia. It has been estimated that 80 mil- lion living women have had this surgery and that 4–5 million girls suffer it each year. The mutilating surgery often leads to sickness or death and encumbers their sexual experience. Some African women accept such mutilation as a just sacrifice for marital stability, but many women and ethicists have condemned it as a cruel practice that causes women unjustified pain and mutilation and robs them of plea- sure and autonomy. Some anthropologists such as Nancy Scheper-Hughes accept relativism and argue that we Westerners have no basis for condemning genital mutilation.8 Scheper-Hughes advocates tolerance for other cultural values. She writes, “I don’t like the idea of clitoridectomy any better than any other woman I know. But I like even less the western ‘voices of reason’ [imposing their judgments].” She argues that judging other cultures irrationally supposes that we know better than the people of that culture do what is right or wrong.

The most famous proponent of this position is anthropologist Melville Herskovits,9 who argues even more explicitly than Benedict and Scheper- Hughes that ethical relativism entails intercultural tolerance:

(1) If morality is relative to its culture, then there is no independent basis for criticizing the morality of any other culture but one’s own.

(2) If there is no independent way of criticizing any other culture, then we ought to be tolerant of the moralities of other cultures.

(3) Morality is relative to its culture. (4) Therefore, we ought to be tolerant of the moralities of other cultures.

Tolerance is certainly a virtue, but is this a good argument for it? No. If morality simply is relative to each culture and if the culture in question has no principle of tolerance, its members have no obligation to be tolerant. Herskovits and Scheper-Hughes, as well, seem to be treating the principle of tolerance as the one exception. They are treating it as an absolute moral principle.

But, from a relativistic point of view, there is no more reason to be tolerant than to be intolerant, and neither stance is objectively morally better than the other. If Westerners condemn clitoridectomies on the basis of their cultural values, they are no more to be condemned than those people are who, because of their cultural

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values, perform clitoridectomies. One cannot consistently assert that all morality is relative and then treat the principle of tolerance as an absolute principle.

CR IT IC ISMS OF CONVENTIONAL ETH ICAL

RELAT IV ISM

So far we’ve examined the main ingredients of conventional ethical relativism and considered its strengths. We now turn to the problems with this view.

Conventional Ethical Relativism Undermines Important Values

One serious problem with conventional ethical relativism is that it undermines the basis of important values. If conventional ethical relativism is true, then we cannot legitimately criticize anyone who adopts what we might regard as an atrocious principle. If, as seems to be the case, valid criticism supposes an objec- tive or impartial standard, then relativists cannot morally criticize anyone outside their own culture. Hitler’s genocidal actions, as long as they are culturally accepted, are as morally legitimate as Mother Teresa’s works of mercy. If con- ventional relativism is accepted, then racism, genocide of unpopular minorities, oppression of the poor, slavery, and even the advocacy of war for its own sake are as moral as their opposites. And if a subculture decided that starting a nuclear war was somehow morally acceptable, we could not morally criticize these peo- ple. Any actual morality, whatever its content, is as valid as every other and more valid than ideal moralities—since no culture adheres to the latter.

Another important value that we commonly hold is that regarding moral reformers: people of conscience like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King who go against the tide of cultural standards. However, according to conventional ethical relativism, by going against dominant cultural standards, their actions are technically wrong. For example, in the eighteenth century, William Wilberforce would have been wrong to oppose slavery. In the nineteenth century, the British would have been wrong for banning the practice of widows committing suicide by jumping into the funeral pyre of their deceased husbands.

Yet, we normally feel just the opposite, that the reformer is a courageous innovator who is right, has the truth, and stands against the mindless majority. Sometimes the individual must stand alone with the truth, risking social censure and persecution. In Henrik Ibsen’s novel An Enemy of the People, a physician pro- tests against the unsanitary conditions of the town’s profitable bathhouse. When he fails to rally public support, he denounces the power that the majority has over the town’s values:

The most dangerous enemy of the truth and freedom among us—is the compact majority. Yes, the damned, compact and liberal majority. The majority has might—unfortunately—but right it is not. Right—are I and a few others.

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We all can appreciate the physician’s conviction that might does not make right. Yet, that is precisely the message of relativism: Truth is with the crowd and error with the moral reformer.

A third important value that conventional ethical relativism undermines is the close connection between morality and the law. This might occur in two ways, first with civil disobedience. Our normal view is that we have a duty to obey the law because law, in general, promotes the human good. Civil disobe- dience involves breaking laws that seem to seriously conflict with morality, such as when activists protested against segregation laws in the 1950s by intentionally violating those laws. However, if ethical relativism is true, then civil disobedience cannot be justified and the activist is in a situation that is similar to that of the moral reformer. That is, from the side of the society at large, civil disobedience will be morally wrong as long as the majority culture agrees with the law in question, such as segregation laws. A second problem occurs with what we can call misguided civil disobedience. Suppose that you belong to racist subculture such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) that does not recognize the legitimacy of laws regarding the equal treatment of races. Why should you obey a law that your group does not recognize as valid? In this case, then, your civil disobedience against those laws will be morally justified.

Thus, unless we have an independent moral basis for law, it is hard to estab- lish a moral foundation to laws. Unless we recognize the priority of a universal moral law, we have no firm basis for either justifying our acts of civil disobedi- ence against “unjust laws,” or grounding our duty to follow just laws.

Conventional Ethical Relativism Leads to Subjectivism

An evenmore basic problemwith conventional ethical relativism is that the notion of a culture or society is notoriously difficult to define. This is especially so in a pluralistic society like our own where one person can belong to several societies or subcultures that hold different conflicting values. There are values that we have as U.S. citizens, other values that we have to our religious institutions, and still others to our social or political organizations. Relativism would seem to tell us that if a person belongs to societies with conflictingmoralities, then that personmust be judged both wrong and not wrong whatever he or she does. For example, if Mary is a U.S. citizen and a member of the Roman Catholic Church, then she is wrong (as a Catholic) if she has an abortion, but not wrong (as a citizen of the United States) if she acts against the church’s teaching on abortion. If John is a college student and member of a racist organization, then he must accept the principle of equal rights (as a U.S. citizen), yet at the same time reject the principle of equal rights (as a member of a racist organiza- tion).What is themorally right thing forMary or John to do? The question no longer makes much sense in this moral confusion. It has lost its action-guiding function.

Perhaps the relativist would adhere to a principle that says in such cases the individual may choose which group to belong to as his or her primary group. If Mary has an abortion, she is choosing to belong to the general society relative to that principle. John must likewise choose among groups. The trouble with this option is that it seems to lead to counterintuitive results. If Mike belongs to the

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company “Murder Incorporated” and wants to feel good about killing a random person, he can identify with the “Murder Incorporated” society rather than the general public morality. This, of course, in no way morally justifies the killing. Another problem is with determining how large a group must be in order to be a legitimate subculture or society. Perhaps 1,000 people, or maybe just 10? Per- haps my burglary partner and I found our own society with a morality of its own. If my partner then dies, I could still claim that I was acting from an origi- nally social set of norms. At this point, though, I can just dispense with the inter- personal agreements altogether and invent my own morality because morality, in this view, is only an invention anyway. Conventionalist relativism seems to reduce to subjectivism. And subjectivism leads, as we have seen, to moral solip- sism, to the demise of morality altogether.

The relativist may here object that this is an instance of the slippery slope fallacy—that is, the fallacy of objecting to a proposition on the erroneous grounds that, if accepted, it will lead to a chain of events that are absurd or unac- ceptable. In response to this objection, though, the burden rests with the relativ- ist to give an alternative analysis of what constitutes a viable social basis for generating valid (or true) moral principles. Perhaps we might agree that the very nature of morality entails two people who are making an agreement. This move saves the conventionalist from moral solipsism, but it still permits almost any principle at all to count as moral. What is more, one can throw out those principles and substitute their contraries for them as the need arises. If two or three students decide to make cheating on exams morally acceptable for them- selves at a university, such as by forming a student organization called Cheaters Anonymous, then cheating becomes moral.

However, we cannot stop the move from conventionalism to subjectivism. The essential force of the validity of the selected moral principle is that it depends on choice. The conventionalist holds that it is the group’s choice, but why should I accept the group’s choice when my own is better for me? If this is all that morality comes to, then why not reject it altogether—even though, to escape punishment, one might want to adhere to its directives when others are looking? Why should anyone give such grand authority to a culture of society? There is no reason to recognize a culture’s authority unless that culture recog- nizes the authority of something that legitimizes the culture. It seems that we need something higher than culture by which to assess a culture.

Moral Diversity Is Exaggerated

A third problem with conventional ethical relativism is that the level of moral diversity that we actually see around the world is not as extreme as relativists like Sumner and Benedict claim. One can also see great similarities among the moral codes of various cultures. Sociobiologist E. O. Wilson has identified over a score of common features:

Every culture has a concept of murder, distinguishing this from execu- tion, killing in war, and other “justifiable homicides.” The notions of

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incest and other regulations upon sexual behavior, the prohibitions upon untruth under defined circumstances, of restitution and recipro- city, of mutual obligations between parents and children—these and many other moral concepts are altogether universal.10

Anthropologist Colin Turnbull describes a sadistic tribe in northern Uganda, called the Ik, which is semi-displaced and disintegrating. This supports the view that a people without principles of kindness, loyalty, and cooperation will degen- erate into a Hobbesian state of nature.11 But Turnbull also shows that, underneath the surface of this dying society, there is a deeper moral code from a time when the tribe flourished, which occasionally surfaces and shows its nobler face.

From another perspective, the whole issue of moral diversity among cultures is irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of conventional ethical relativism. There is indeed enormous cultural diversity, and many societies have radically different moral codes. Cultural diversity seems to be a fact, but, even if it is, it does not by itself establish the truth of ethical relativism. Cultural diversity in itself is neu- tral with respect to theories. The objectivist could concede complete cultural relativism but still defend a form of universalism; for he or she could argue that some cultures simply lack correct moral principles.12

By the same reasoning, a denial of complete cultural relativism (that is, an admission of some universal principles) does not disprove ethical relativism. For even if we did find one or more universal principles, this would not prove that they had any objective status. We could still imagine a culture that was an excep- tion to the rule and be unable to criticize it. Thus, the diversity thesis doesn’t by itself imply ethical relativism, and its denial doesn’t disprove ethical relativism.

Weak Dependency Does Not Imply Relativism

A final problem with conventional ethical relativism concerns the dependency thesis that all moral principles derive their validity from cultural acceptance. On close inspection, this principle is rather unclear and can be restated in two distinct ways, a weak and a strong version:

Weak dependency. The application of moral principles depends on one’s culture.

Strong dependency. The moral principles themselves depend on one’s culture.

The weak thesis says that the application of principles depends on the partic- ular cultural predicament, whereas the strong thesis affirms that the principles themselves depend on that predicament. The nonrelativist can accept a certain rel- ativity in the way that moral principles are applied in various cultures, depending on beliefs, history, and environment. Indeed, morality does not occur in a vacuum but is linked with these cultural factors. For example, a harsh environment with scarce natural resources may justify the Eskimos’ brand of euthanasia to the objec- tivist, who would consistently reject that practice if it occurred in another environ- ment. One Sudanese tribe throws its deformed infants into the river because the tribe believes that such infants belong to the hippopotamus, the god of the river.

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We believe that these groups’ belief in euthanasia and infanticide is false, but the point is that the same principles of respect for property and respect for human life operate in such contrary practices. The tribe differs with us only in belief, not in substantive moral principle. This is an illustration of how nonmoral beliefs (for example, deformed infants belong to the hippopotamus), when applied to com- mon moral principles (for example, give to each his or her due), generate different actions in different cultures. In our own culture, the difference in the nonmoral belief about the status of a fetus generates opposite moral stands. The major differ- ence between pro-choice and pro-life advocates is not whether we should kill persons but whether fetuses are really persons. It is a debate about the facts of the matter, not the principle of killing innocent persons.

Thus, the fact that moral principles are weakly dependent doesn’t show that ethical relativism is valid. Despite this weak dependency on nonmoral factors, there could still be a set of general moral norms applicable to all cultures and even recognized in most, which a culture could disregard only at its own expense.

Accordingly, the ethical relativist must maintain the stronger thesis, which insists that the very validity of the principles is a product of the culture and that different cultures will invent different valid principles. This, though, is a more difficult position to establish because it requires ruling out all rival sources of sub- stantive moral principles such as human reason, human evolution, innate notions of human happiness, and God. In fact, a detailed examination of these rival explanations will take us on through to the end of this book. In short, while it is reasonable to accept the weak dependency thesis—the application of moral principles depends on one’s culture—the relativist needs the stronger thesis that is a challenge to prove.

The Indeterminacy of Language

Relativists still have at least one more arrow in their quiver—the argument from the indeterminacy of translation. This theory, set forth by Willard V. Quine (1908–2000),13 holds that languages are often so fundamentally different from each other that we cannot accurately translate concepts from one to another. Language groups mean different things by words. Quine holds that it may be impossible to know whether a native speaker who points toward a rabbit and says “gavagai” is using the word to signify “rabbit,” or “rabbit part,” or some- thing else. This thesis holds that language is the essence of a culture and funda- mentally shapes its reality, cutting the culture off from other languages and cultures. This, then, seems to imply that each society’s moral principles depend on its unique linguistically grounded culture.

But experience seems to falsify this thesis. Although each culture does have a particular language with different meanings—indeed, each person has his or her own particular set of meanings—we do learn foreign languages and learn to translate across linguistic frameworks. For example, people from a myriad of lan- guage groups come to the United States, learn English, and communicate per- fectly well. Rather than causing a complete gap, the interplay between these

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other cultures and ours eventually enriches the English language with new con- cepts (for example, forte, foible, taboo, and coup de grace), even as English has enriched (or “corrupted,” as the French might argue) other languages. Even if some indeterminacy of translation exists between language users, we should not infer from this that no translation or communication is possible. It seems reason- able to believe that general moral principles are precisely those things that can be communicated transculturally. The kind of common features that Kluckhohn and Wilson advance—duties of restitution and reciprocity, regulations on sexual behavior, obligations of parents to children, a no-unnecessary-harm principle, and a sense that the good people should flourish and the guilty people should suffer—these and other features constitute a common human experience, a com- mon set of values within a common human predicament of struggling to survive and flourish in a world of scarce resources.14 Thus, it is possible to communicate cross-culturally and find that we agree on many of the important things in life. If this is so, then the indeterminacy-of-translation thesis, which relativism rests on, must itself be relativized to the point at which it is no objection to objective morality.

What the relativist needs is a strong thesis of dependency, that somehow all principles are essentially cultural inventions. But, why should we choose to view morality this way? Is there anything to recommend the strong thesis of depen- dency over the weak thesis of dependency? The relativist may argue that in fact we lack an obvious impartial standard to judge from. “Who’s to say which culture is right and which is wrong?” But this seems dubious. We can reason and perform thought experiments to make a case for one system over another. We may not be able to know with certainty that our moral beliefs are closer to the truth than those of another culture or those of others within our own culture, but we may be justified in believing this about our moral beliefs. If we can be closer to the truth about factual or scientific matters, maybe we can be closer to the truth on moral matters. Maybe a culture simply can be confused or wrong about its moral percep- tions. Maybe we can say that a culture like the Ik, which enjoys watching its own children fall into fires, is less moral in that regard than a culture that cherishes chil- dren and grants them protection and equal rights. To take such a stand is not eth- nocentrism, for we are seeking to derive principles through critical reason, not simply uncritical acceptance of one’s own mores.

CONCLUS ION

Ethical relativism—the thesis that moral principles derive their validity from dependence on society or individual choice—seems plausible at first glance, but on close scrutiny it presents some major problems. Subjective ethical relativism seems to boil down to anarchistic individualism, an essential denial of the inter- personal feature of the moral point of view. Conventional ethical relativism, which does contain an interpersonal perspective, fails to deal adequately with

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the problem of the reformer, the question of defining a culture, and the whole enterprise of moral criticism. Nevertheless, unless moral objectivism—the subject of the next chapter—can make a positive case for its position, relativism may survive these criticisms.

NOTES

1. History of Herodotus, trans. George Rawlinson (New York: Appleton, 1859), Bk. 3, Ch. 38.

2. Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon (New York: Scribner’s, 1932), p. 4.

3. Quoted in Harry V. Jaffa, Homosexuality and the Natural Law (Claremont, CA: Claremont Institute of the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, 1990), pp. 3–4.

4. John Ladd, Ethical Relativism (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1973), p. 1.

5. Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (New York: New American Library, 1934), p. 257.

6. W. G. Sumner, Folkways (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1905), Sec. 80, p. 76.

7. Benedict, Patterns of Culture.

8. Nancy Scheper-Hughes, “Virgin Territory: The Male Discovery of the Clitoris,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 5, no. 1 (March 1991): pp. 25–28.

9. Melville Herskovits, Cultural Relativism (New York: Random House, 1972).

10. E. O. Wilson, On Human Nature (New York: Bantam Books, 1979), pp. 22–23.

11. Colin Turnbull, The Mountain People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972).

12. Clyde Kluckhohn, “Ethical Relativity: Sic et Non,” Journal of Philosophy 52 (1955): pp. 663–677.

13. See W. V. Quine, Word and Object (MIT Press, 1960) and Ontological Relativity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969); Benjamin Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1956).

14. Kluckhohn, “Ethical Relativity”; Wilson, On Human Nature.

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

1. Examine the position paper of the American Anthropological Association, quoted at the opening of this chapter, which rhetorically concludes that there are no universal human rights. How sound is this argument implying that all morality, as well as human rights, is relative to culture? What does this mean regarding women’s rights? Discuss the implications of this argument.

Additional questions online

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content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

2. Go over John Ladd’s definition of ethical relativism, quoted at the beginning of this chapter and discussed within it. Is it a good definition? Can you find a better definition of ethical relativism? Ask your friends what they think ethical relativism is and whether they accept it. You might put the question this way: “Are there any moral absolutes, or is morality completely relative?” Discuss your findings.

3. Examine the notion of subjective ethical relativism. It bases morality on radical individualism, the theory that each person is the inventor of morality: “Morality is in the eye of the beholder.” Consider this assumption of indi- vidualism. Could there be a morality for only one person? Imagine that only one person existed in the world (leave God out of the account). Suppose you were that person. Would you have any moral duties? Certainly there would be prudential duties—some ways of living would help you attain your goals—but would there be moral duties?

4. Now imagine a second person has come into your world—a fully devel- oped, mature person with wants, needs, hopes, and fears. How does this change the nature of the situation of the solitary individual?

5. Can you separate the anthropological claim that different cultures have dif- ferent moral principles (the diversity thesis—called cultural relativism) from the judgment that therefore they are all equally good (ethical relativism)?

Are there independent criteria by which we can say that some cultures are “better” than others?

6. Ruth Benedict has written that our culture is “but one entry in a long series of possible adjustments” and that “the very eyes with which we see the problem are conditioned by the long traditional habits of our own society.” What are the implications of these statements? Is she correct? How would an objectivist respond to these claims?

7. Consider the practice of clitoridectomies in parts of Africa, discussed in this chapter. How would an ethical relativist defend such a practice? How would a nonrelativist argue against the practice?

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3

Moral Objectivism

H ere is the story of Seba, a girl from Mali: I was raised by my grandmother in Mali, and when I was still a little girl a woman my family knew came and asked her if she could take me to Paris to care for her children. She told my grandmother that she would put me in school, and that I would learn French. But when I came to Paris I was not sent to school. I had to work every day. In her house I did all the work; I cleaned the house, cooked the meals, cared for the children, and washed and fed the baby. Every day I started work before 7 a.m. and finished about 11 p.m.; I never had a day off. My mistress did nothing; she slept late and then watched television or went out.

… She would often beat me. She would slap me all the time. She beat me with a broom, with kitchen tools, or whipped me with electric cable. Sometimes I would bleed; I still have marks on my body.

Once in 1992, I was late going to get the children from school; my mistress and her husband were furious with me and beat me and then threw me out on the street. I didn’t understand anything, and I wandered on the street. After some time her husband found me and took me back to the house. There they stripped me naked, tied my hands behind my back, and began to whip me with a wire attached to a broomstick. Both of them were beating me at the same time. I was bleeding a lot and screaming, but they continued to beat me. Then she rubbed chili pepper into my wounds and stuck it in my vagina. I lost consciousness.1

Surely, this case of modern slavery is an instance of injustice. Seba was trea- ted with malicious cruelty. What happened to Seba should not happen to a dog, let alone a little girl. It is morally wrong, even if the people who enslaved Seba

28

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believed what they were doing was morally permissible. You can be sincere but mistaken. The people who enslaved Seba violated at least three basic moral prin- ciples: (1) respect the freedom of rational beings; (2) don’t cause unnecessary suf- fering; and (3) always treat people as ends in themselves, never merely as means (that is, don’t exploit people). We will examine such principles throughout the rest of this book.

One way of testing our behavior is by applying the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is a procedure, for generally in everyday life we can decide what is right or wrong by putting ourselves in the shoes of people with whom we are interacting. I would not want you to steal my property, so I should not steal yours. As we will see in Chapter 8, this rule is not always correct, but it is a good rule of thumb. It’s the beginning but not the last word in moral philosophy.

In Chapter 2, we examined moral relativism, the thesis that moral principles gain their validity only through approval by the culture or the individual, and concluded that it had major problems. However, showing that relativism is loaded with liabilities is one thing; showing that moral principles have objective validity, independent of cultural acceptance, is quite another. A rival theory to moral relativism attempts to do just that—namely, the position of moral objec- tivism: There are objective universal moral principles, valid for all people and all social environments. In this chapter, we examine several versions of this theory and ultimately accept a view that may be called moderate objectivism.

First, it is important to distinguish between moral objectivism and the closely related view of moral absolutism. The absolutist believes that there are moral principles that one ought never violate. Moral principles are exceptionless and non- overrideable. For example, some absolutists hold that one ought never break a promise, no matter what. The objectivist shares with the absolutist the notion that moral principles have universal, objective validity. However, objectivists deny that moral norms are necessarily exceptionless. The objectivist could believe that no moral duty has absolute weight or strict priority; each moral principle must be weighed against other moral principles. For example, the duty to tell the truth might be overridden in a situation where speaking the truth would lead to serious harm. In this case, the duty to avoid harm would override the duty to tell the truth. Some versions of objectivism indeed do adopt the absolutist stance that moral prin- ciples are exceptionless and nonoverrideable. Other objectivist theories, though, reject absolutism and maintain instead that, in special situations, one moral duty might be overridden by a different and more compelling duty.

We begin our discussion with the views of one influential moral objectivist, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274).

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AQUINAS ‘S OBJECT IV ISM AND ABSOLUT ISM

Aquinas’s moral philosophy has two components. First, he followed an objectiv- ist approach called natural law theory. Second, he was a moral absolutist, and he developed this theme in a theory known as the doctrine of double effect. Let’s look at each of these.

Natural Law Theory

Natural law theory is the view that there exists an eternal moral law that can be discovered through reason by looking at the nature of humanity and society. The idea of natural law first appears among the Stoics (first century BCE), who believed that human beings have within them a divine spark (from the Greek logos spermatikos, meaning “the rational seed or sperm”) that enables them to dis- cover the essential eternal laws necessary for individual happiness and social har- mony. The whole universe is governed by laws that exhibit rationality. Nature in general and animals in particular obey these laws by necessity, but humans have a choice. Humans obey these laws because they can perceive the laws’ inner reasonableness. This notion enabled the Stoics to be cosmopolitans (“people of the cosmos”) who imposed a universal standard of righteousness (jus naturale) on all societies, evaluating various human-made or “positive laws” (from the Latin jus gentium, meaning “laws of the nations”) by this higher bar of reason.

Aquinas combined the sense of cosmic natural law with Aristotle’s view that human beings, like every other natural object, have a specific nature, purpose, and function. A knife’s function is to cut sharply, a chair’s function is to support the body in a certain position, and a house’s function is to provide shelter from the elements. Humanity’s essence or proper function is to live the life of reason. As Aristotle put it,

It would seem too that reason is the true self of everyone, since a man’s true self is his supreme or better part. It would be absurd, then, that a man should not choose the life which is properly his own, but the life which properly belongs to some other being. 2

Humanity’s function is to exhibit rationality in all its forms: contemplation, deliberation, and action. For Aquinas, reason’s deliberative processes discover the natural laws. They are universal rules, or “ordinances of reason for the common good, spread by him who has the care of the community”:

To the natural law belong those things to which a man is inclined naturally; and among these it is proper to man to be inclined to act according to reason …. Hence this is the first precept of law, that good is to be done and promoted, and evil is to be avoided. All other pre- cepts of the natural law are based upon this; so that all the things which the practical reason naturally apprehends as man’s good belong to the precepts of the natural law under the form of things to be done or avoided.

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Since, however, good has the nature of an end, and evil, the nature of the contrary, hence it is that all those things to which man has a natural inclination are naturally apprehended by reason as good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance. Therefore, the order of the precepts of the nat- ural law is according to the order of natural inclinations.3

Aquinas and other Christians who espoused natural law appealed to the “Epistle to the Romans” in the New Testament, where Paul wrote,

When the Gentiles, who have not the [Jewish-revealed] law, do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is writ- ten on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them. (Romans 2:14–15)

The key ideas of the natural law tradition are the following:

1. Human beings have an essential rational nature established by God, who designed us to live and flourish in prescribed ways (from Aristotle and the Stoics).

2. Even without knowledge of God, reason, as the essence of our nature, can discover the laws necessary for human flourishing (from Aristotle; developed by Aquinas).

3. The natural laws are universal and unchangeable, and one should use them to judge individual societies and their positive laws. Positive (or actual) laws of societies that are not in line with the natural law are not truly laws but counterfeits (from the Stoics).

Moral laws have objective validity. Reason can sort out which inclinations are part of our true nature and how we are to relate them to one another. Aquinas listed the desires for life and procreation as fundamental values without which other values could not even get established. Knowledge and friendship (or sociability) are two other intrinsic values. These values are not good because we desire them; rather, we desire them because they are good—they are abso- lutely necessary for human flourishing.

The Doctrine of Double Effect

Aquinas’s position is not only objectivist but also absolutist. For Aquinas, human- ity has an essentially rational nature, and reason can discover the right action in every situation by following an appropriate exceptionless principle. But, sometimes we encounter moral dilemmas in which we cannot do good without also bring- ing about evil consequences. To this end, Aquinas devised the doctrine of double effect (DDE), which provides a tidy method for solving all moral disputes in which an act will have two effects, one good and the other bad. The doctrine says, roughly, that it is always wrong to do a bad act intentionally to bring about good consequences, but that it is sometimes permissible to do a good act despite

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knowing that it will bring about bad consequences. This doctrine consists in four conditions that must be satisfied before an act is morally permissible:

1. The nature-of-the-act condition. The action must be either morally good or indifferent. Lying or intentionally killing an innocent person is never permissible.

2. The means–end condition. The bad effect must not be the means by which one achieves the good effect.

3. The right-intention condition. The intention must be the achieving of only the good effect, with the bad effect being only an unintended side effect. If the bad effect is a means of obtaining the good effect, then the act is immoral. The bad effect may be foreseen but must not be intended.

4. The proportionality condition. The good effect must be at least equivalent in importance to the bad effect.

Let’s illustrate this doctrine by applying it to a woman whose life is endan- gered by her pregnancy. Is it morally permissible for her to have an abortion to save her life? The DDE says that an abortion is not permissible.

Because abortion kills an innocent human being and intentionally killing inno- cent human beings is always wrong, it is always wrong to have an abortion—even to save the woman’s life. Abortion also fails condition 2 (the means–end condition). Killing the innocent to bring about a good effect is never justified, not even to save a whole city or the world. As the Stoics said, “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.” However, if the woman’s uterus happens to be cancerous, then she may have a hysterectomy, which will result in the death of the fetus. This is because the act of removing a cancerous uterus is morally good (thus passing condition 1). The act of performing a hysterectomy also passes condition 3 because the death of the fetus is the unintended (although foreseen) effect of the hysterectomy. Condi- tion 2 is passed because the death of the fetus is not the means of saving the woman’s life—the hysterectomy is. Condition 4 is passed because saving the woman’s life is a great good, at least as good as saving the fetus. In this case, given the DDE, the woman is really lucky to have a cancerous uterus.

On the other hand, if the doctor could save the woman’s life only by chang- ing the composition of the amniotic fluid (say, with saline solution), which in turn would kill the fetus, then this would not be morally permissible according to the DDE. In this case, the same result occurs as in the hysterectomy, but kill- ing the fetus is intended as the means of saving the woman’s life. Similarly, crush- ing the fetus’s head to remove the fetus vaginally and thus save the mother’s life would be disallowed because this would violate conditions 2 and 3.

The Roman Catholic Church uses this doctrine to prohibit not only most abortions but also the use of contraceptives. Because the procreation of life is good and the frustration of life is bad and because the natural purpose of sexual intercourse is to produce new life, it is wrong to use devices that prevent inter- course from producing its natural result.

The doctrine is also used by just-war theorists in defending strategic bomb- ings in contrast with terrorist bombings. In a strategic bombing, the intention is

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to destroy a military target such as a munitions factory. One foresees that in the process of destroying this legitimate target, noncombatants will be killed. On the basis of DDE, the bombing is justified because the civilians were not the intended target. In a terrorist bombing, on the other hand, noncombatants are the intended target. The Allied fire bombings of Hamburg and Dresden in World War II and the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are condemned on the basis of the DDE because they clearly intended to kill civilians. Utilitarians, by contrast, would permit such bombings because they were likely to produce overall benefit—namely, ending the war sooner, thus sav- ing thousands of lives.

Consider another example. Suppose that Sally’s father has planted a nuclear bomb that will detonate in a half hour. Sally is the only person who knows where he hid it, and she has promised him that she will not reveal the location to anyone. Although she regrets his act, as a devoted daughter she refuses to break her promise and give away the secret. However, if we do not discover where the bomb is and dismantle it within the next half hour, it will blow up a city and kill a million people. Suppose we can torture Sally to get this information from her. According to the DDE, is this permissible? No, for the end does not justify the means. Con- dition 2 is violated. We are using a bad act to bring about a good effect.

On the other hand, suppose someone has tampered with the wires of my television set in such a way that turning it on will send an electrical signal to the next town where it will detonate a bomb. Suppose I know that this will happen. Is it morally wrong, according to the DDE, to turn on my television to watch an edifying program? Yes it is because condition 4 is violated. The unintended evil outweighs the good.

Problems with the Doctrine of Double Effect

If we interpret the proportionality principle in this way, then a lot of other seemingly innocent or good actions would also violate it. Suppose that I am con- templating joining a religion to save my eternal soul. However, I realize that, by doing so, I will create enormous resentment in my neighborhood over my act, resentment that will cause five neighbors to be damned. Or, suppose that my marrying the woman of my heart’s desire generates such despair in five other fellows (who, we may imagine, would be reasonably happy as bachelors as long as no one married her) that they all commit suicide. We may suppose that the despair I cause these five fellows will make their free will nonoperational. I understand ahead of time that my act will have this result. Is my act morally justified? In both of these cases, the DDE seems to imply that my actions are not morally justified because, according to condition 4, the good effects would be much less than the bad effects.

The DDE has problems. First, some of the prescriptions seem patently coun- terintuitive. It seems absurd to prohibit someone from changing his or her religion or marrying the person of his or her choice because other people will feel depressed or do evil deeds. Normally, we want to say, “That’s their problem.”And, regarding the abortion example, we generally judge the mother’s life to be more valuable

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than the fetus’s life, so commonsense morality would permit all abortions that promise to save the mother’s life. The response to this may be that our intuitions are not always correct. They can lead us astray. Some people have intuitions that it is bad luck to walk under a ladder or have a black cat cross one’s path, but these are simply superstitions. The counterresponse is that intuitions about a person’s right to life are not superstitions but a fundamental moral right.

Second, it’s not always clear how closely an effect must be connected with the act to be counted as the intended act. Consider the trolley problem, first set forth by Philippa Foot. A trolley is speeding down a track, and Edward the driver notices that the brakes have failed. Five people who will be killed if something is not done are standing on the track a short distance ahead of the trolley. To the right is a sidetrack in a tunnel on which a single worker is working. Should Edward turn the wheel onto the sidetrack, killing the single worker? Utilitarians and many others would say that Edward should turn the trolley onto the sidetrack, for it is better to kill one person than allow five equally innocent people to die. The DDE would seem to prohibit this action, holding that it would violate con- ditions 2 and 3, or at least 2, doing a bad effect to bring about a good effect. It would seem to violate 3, given that the effect of turning the trolley onto the right sidetrack is so closely linked with the death of the worker because only a miracle could save him. The idea is that killing is worse than letting die. So, it would seem, according to DDE, Edward should not turn the trolley onto the sidetrack.

However, the proponent of DDE responds, “Edward has not formed an actual intention to kill the worker, so condition 3 is not violated. The trolley driver would not object if an angel rescued the worker while the trolley sped through the tunnel.” The counterresponse is that turning the trolley onto the sidetrack is so closely and definitely linked with the death of the innocent worker that the inten- tion is connected with the act. Otherwise, couldn’t the terrorists on 9/11 argue that their destroying the Twin Towers of theWorld Trade Center was permitted by the DDE? Imagine such a defense: “We only meant to destroy the symbols of corporate greed and foresaw that innocent lives would be lost as collateral damage.We would not have objected if an angel had rescued the lives of the passengers in the plane and the people in the Twin Towers.”

Third, there is the problem of how to describe an act. Could I not rede- scribe abortion in which the woman’s health or life is in danger as intending to improve the woman’s health (or save her life) and only foreseeing that removing the fetus will result in its unintended death? Or, could I not steal some food from the grocery store, intending to feed the poor and foreseeing that the grocer will be slightly poorer? And, could I not redescribe Edward’s trolley car dilemma as merely trying to save the lives of five people with the unintended consequence of allowing the trolley to run over one person?

Of course, the DDE must set limits to redescription; otherwise, almost any act can be justified by ingenious redescription. Eric D’Arcy has attempted to set such limits. He quotes the jingle “Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay, might stop a hole to keep the wind away” but adds that it would be ridiculous to describe killing Caesar as intending to block a windy draft. His own solution to this problem is that “certain kinds of acts are of such significance that the

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terms which denote them may not, special contexts apart, be elided into terms which (a) denote their consequences, and (b) conceal, or even fail to reveal, the nature of the act itself.”4

This explanation may lend plausibility to the DDE, but it is not always pos- sible to identify the exact nature of the act itself—it may have various interpreta- tions. Furthermore, the absolutism of the doctrine will make it counterintuitive to many of us. It would seem to prohibit lying to save a life or breaking a prom- ise to spare someone great suffering. Why should we accept a system that allows the destruction of many innocent people simply because we may have to over- ride a normal moral precept? Aren’t morals made for the human good? Doesn’t the strong natural law tradition reverse things—requiring that humans serve rules for the rules’ own sake? Furthermore, there may be more than a single right answer to every moral dilemma. The DDE seems casuistic, making hairsplitting distinctions that miss the point of morality. It gives us solutions to problems that seem to impose an artificial rigidity on human existence.

Fourth, there is one other difficulty with the absolute version of natural law: It is tied closely to a teleological view of human nature, a view that sees not only humanity but also each individual as having a plan designed by God or a god-like nature, so any deviation from the norm is morally wrong. Hence, because the plan of humanity includes procreation and sexuality is the means to that goal, only het- erosexual intercourse (without artificial birth control devices) is morally permitted.

However, according to Darwinian evolutionary theory, there is no design. Human beings are animals who evolved from “lower” forms of life via the survival of the fittest. We are the product of chance in this struggle for existence. If this is so, then the ideas of a single human purpose and an absolute set of laws to serve that purpose are problematic. Wemay have many purposes, and our moral domain may include a certain relativity. For example, heterosexuality may serve one social pur- pose whereas homosexuality serves another, and both may be fulfilling for different types of individuals. Reason’s task may not be to discover an essence of humanity or unchangeable laws but simply to help us survive and fulfill our desires.

However, even if this nonreligious account of evolution is inaccurate and there is a God who has guided evolution, it is still not obvious that the absolutist’s way of looking at the world and morality is the best one available. Nonetheless, the DDE may remind us of two important moral truths: (1) Negative duties are typically more stringent than positive ones. Ordinarily, it is less wrong to allow an evil than to do evil; otherwise, a maniac, known to reliably execute his threats could get us to kill someone merely by threatening to kill five people unless we carried out the murder. (2) People have rights that must be respected, so we cannot simply decide what to do based on a crude utilitarian calculus.

If we give up the notion that a moral system must contain only absolute principles, duties that proceed out of a rigid formula such as the DDE, what can we put in its place? One possibility is that there are valid rules of action that one should generally adhere to but in cases of moral conflict may be over- rideable by another moral principle. William D. Ross refers to these overrideable moral rules as prima facie duties. That is, they are binding only initially, or on “first appearance,” until overridden by a more urgent duty.5 For example, even

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though a principle of justice may generally outweigh a principle of benevolence, there are times when one could do enormous good by sacrificing a small amount of justice; thus, an objectivist would be inclined to act according to the principle of benevolence.

There may be some absolute or nonoverrideable principles, but there need not be any (or many) for objectivism to be true. Renford Bambrough states this point nicely:

To suggest that there is a right answer to a moral problem is at once to be accused of or credited with a belief in moral absolutes. But it is no more necessary to believe in moral absolutes in order to believe in moral objectivity than it is to believe in the existence of absolute space or absolute time in order to believe in the objectivity of temporal and spatial relations and of judgments about them.6

MODERATE OBJECT IV ISM

What is central to moral objectivism, then, is not the absolutist position that moral principles are exceptionless and nonoverrideable. Rather, it is that there are universal and objective moral principles, valid for all people and social envir- onments. If we can establish or show that it is reasonable to believe that there is, in some ideal sense, at least one objective moral principle that is binding on all people everywhere, then we will have shown that relativism probably is false and that a limited objectivism is true. There are good reasons to believe that many qualified general ethical principles are binding on all rational beings, but one principle will suffice to refute relativism:

A. It is morally wrong to torture people for the fun of it.

This principle is binding on all rational agents, so that if some agent, S, rejects A, we should not let that affect our intuition that A is a true principle; rather, we should try to explain S’s behavior as perverse, ignorant, or irrational instead. For example, suppose Adolf Hitler doesn’t accept A. Should that affect our confidence in the truth of A? Is it not more reasonable to infer that Hitler is morally deficient, morally blind, ignorant, or irrational than to suppose that his noncompliance is evidence against the truth of A?

Suppose further that there is a tribe of “Hitlerites” somewhere who enjoy torturing people. Their whole culture accepts torturing others for the fun of it. Suppose that Mother Teresa or Mohandas Gandhi tries unsuccessfully to con- vince these sadists that they should stop torturing people altogether, and the sadists respond by torturing her or him. Should this affect our confidence in A?

Would it not be more reasonable to look for some explanation of Hitlerite behavior? For example, we might hypothesize that this tribe lacks the developed sense of sympathetic imagination that is necessary for the moral life. Or we might theorize that this tribe is on a lower evolutionary level than most Homo sapiens. Or we might simply conclude that the tribe is closer to a Hobbesian state of

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nature than most societies, and as such probably would not survive very long— or if it did, the lives of its people would be largely “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” as in the Ik culture in northern Uganda where the core morality has partly broken down. But we need not know the correct answer as to why the tribe is in such bad shape to maintain our confidence in A as a moral principle. If A is a basic or core belief for us, then we will be more likely to doubt the Hitle- rites’ sanity or ability to think morally than to doubt the validity of A.

Core Morality

We can perhaps produce other candidates for membership in our minimally basic objective moral set:

1. Do not kill innocent people.

2. Do not cause unnecessary pain or suffering.

3. Do not lie or deceive.

4. Do not steal or cheat.

5. Keep your promises and honor your contracts.

6. Do not deprive another person of his or her freedom.

7. Do justice, treating people as they deserve to be treated.

8. Reciprocate: Show gratitude for services rendered.

9. Help other people, especially when the cost to oneself is minimal.

10. Obey just laws.

These ten principles are examples of the core morality, principles necessary for the good life within a flourishing human community. They are not arbitrary, for we can give reasons that explain why they are constitutive elements of a success- ful society, necessary to social cohesion and personal well-being. Principles like the Golden Rule, (1) not killing innocent people, (3) telling the truth, (5) keep- ing promises, (6) respecting liberty, (7) rewarding or punishing people (which- ever they deserve—justice), (9) helping those in need, and the like are central to the fluid progression of social interaction and the resolution of conflicts of inter- est that ethics bears on.

For example, regarding rule 1, the survival instinct causes us to place a high value on our lives so that any society that would survive must protect innocent life. Without the protection of innocent life, nothing would be possible for us. Rule 2, “Do not cause unnecessary pain or suffering,” seems quite obvious. No normal person desires gratuitous pain or harm. We want to be healthy and suc- cessful and have our needs taken into consideration. The ancient code of medi- cine requiring that doctors “Above all, do no harm” is applicable to all of us.

Regarding rule 3, language itself depends on a general and implicit commit- ment to the principle of truth telling. Accuracy of expression is a primitive form of truthfulness. Hence, every time that we use words correctly (for example, “That is a book” or “My name is Sam”), we are telling the truth. Without a high degree of reliable matching between words and objects, language itself would be

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impossible. Likewise, regarding rule 5, without the practice of promise keeping, we could not rely on one another’s words when they inform us about future acts. We could have no reliable expectations about their future behavior. Our lives are social, dependent on cooperation, so it is vital that when we make agreements, we fulfill them (for example, “I’ll help you with your philosophy paper if you’ll help me install a new computer program”). This agreement involves reciprocity, rule 8; we need to have confidence that the other party will reciprocate when we have done our part. Even chimpanzees follow the rule of reciprocity, returning good for good.

Regarding rule 4, without a prohibition against stealing and cheating, we could not claim property—not even ownership of our very limbs, let alone external goods. And, if freeloading and stealing became the norm, very little pro- ductive work would be done, so there would be little to steal and our lives would be impoverished. Anyone who has ever been confined to a small room or has had his limbs tied up should be able to see the need for rule 6, respect other people’s liberty; for without freedom we could hardly attain our goals.

Sometimes, people question whether rule 7—that we do justice, treating people according to what they merit—implies that we should reward and punish on the basis of morally relevant criteria, not irrelevant ones like race, ethnicity, or gender. One part of justice advocates consistency. If a teacher gives Jack an A for a certain quality of essay, she should give Jill the same grade if her essay is of the same quality. A stronger, more substantive principle of justice holds that we should “Give people what they deserve.”

Rule 10, “Obey just laws,” is necessary for harmonious social living. We may not always agree with the law, but in social situations we must make rea- sonable compromises and accept the decisions of the government. When we dis- agree with the law, we may work to convince the powers-that-be to change it; in extreme situations such as living in a society with racist laws, we may decide to engage in civil disobedience.

There may be other moral rules necessary or highly relevant to an objective core morality. Perhaps we should add something like “Cooperate with others for the common good,” although this is already included when we combine rules 2, 4, and 9. Perhaps you can think of other rules that are necessary to a flourishing community. In any case, although a moral code would be adequate if it con- tained a requisite set of these objective principles, there could be more than one adequate moral code that contained different rankings or different combina- tions of rules. Different specific rules may be required in different situations. For example, in a desert community, there may be a strict rule prohibiting the wast- ing of water, and in a community with a preponderance of females over males, there may be a rule permitting polygamy. A society where birth control devices are available may differ on the rule prescribing chastity from one that lacks such technology. Such moral flexibility does not entail moral relativism but simply a recognition that social situations can determine which rules are relevant to the flourishing of a particular community. Nevertheless, an essential core morality, such as that described above, will be practically necessary for human flourishing.

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The core moral rules are analogous to the set of vitamins necessary for a healthy diet. We need an adequate amount of each vitamin—some need more of one than another—but in prescribing a nutritional diet we need not set forth recipes, specific foods, place settings, or culinary habits. Gourmets will meet the requirements differently from ascetics and vegetarians, but all may obtain the basic nutrients without rigid regimentation or an absolute set of recipes.

Our Common Human Nature

In more positive terms, an objectivist bases his or her moral system on a common human nature with common needs and desires. There is more that unites all humanity than divides us. As Aristotle wrote, “One may also observe in one’s travels to distant countries the feelings of recognition and affiliation that link every human being to every other human being.” Think of all the things we humans have in common. We all must take in nutrition and water to live and to lead a healthy life. We all want to have friends and family or some meaningful affiliation (for example, belonging to a fraternity, a church, or a club). Children in every culture must be nourished, cherished, and socialized to grow up into productive citizens. We are all vulnerable to disease, despair, and death. And we each must face our own death. There are many differences between human beings and cultures, but our basic nature is the same, and we have more in com- mon than what separates us. Adopting this premise of our common human nature, we might argue for objectivism in the following manner:

(1) Human nature is relatively similar in essential respects, having a common set of basic needs and interests.

(2) Moral principles are functions of human needs and interests, instituted by reason to meet the needs and promote the most significant interests of human (or rational) beings.

(3) Some moral principles will meet needs and promote human interests better than other principles.

(4) Principles that will meet essential human needs and promote the most sig- nificant interests in optimal ways are objectively valid moral principles.

(5) Therefore, because there is a common human nature, there is an objectively valid set of moral principles, applicable to all humanity (or rational beings).

The argument assumes that there is a common human nature. In a sense, an objectivist accepts the view that morality depends on some social reality for its authentication; however, it is not the reality of cultural acceptance but the reality of our common nature as rational beings, with needs, interests, and the ability to reason. There is only one large human framework to which all humans belong and to which all principles are relative. Relativists sometimes claim that the idea of a common human nature is an illusion, but our knowledge of human genet- ics, anthropology, and history provides overwhelming evidence that we are all related by common needs, interests, and desires. We all generally prefer to sur- vive, to be happy, to experience love and friendship rather than hatred and enmity, to be successful in reaching our goals, and the like. We care for our

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children, feel gratitude for services rendered, and feel resentment for intentional harms done to us. We seek peace and security and, being social animals, want friends and family. Game theorists have performed decision-making experiments throughout the world, from tribes in the Amazon and New Guinea to Western societies. They confirm our judgment that all people value fairness and generos- ity and are willing to forego profit to punish freeloaders.7 The core morality is requisite for the attainment of these goals.

Of course, these principles are prima facie, not absolutes. An absolute prin- ciple can never be overridden; it is exceptionless. Most moral principles, how- ever, can be overridden when they conflict with other moral principles in some contexts.

For example, you may override the principle to keep your promise to meet me this afternoon if you come upon an accident victim in need of your help. Or you may override the principle forbidding lying when a murderer asks you where your friend, who the murderer wants to kill, is hiding. Or you may steal in dire circumstances to feed your family. In general, though, these principles should be adhered to in order to give the maximal guarantee for the good life.

ETH ICAL S ITUAT IONAL ISM

One of the reasons people believe in ethical relativism is that they confuse it with ethical situationalism, so we need to examine this concept. Ethical situationalism is given expression in the famous passage from the Old Testament:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:1–10)

Ethical situationalism states that objective moral principles are to be applied differently in different contexts, whereas ethical relativism denies univer- sal ethical principles altogether. Here is an illustration of the difference.

In the book (and David Lean’s Academy Award–winning movie made after it) The Bridge over the River Kwai,8 there is a marvelous example of ethical situa- tionalism. During World War II, British prisoners in the jungle of Burma are ordered to work for their Japanese captors by building a railroad bridge across

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the River Kwai so that the Japanese can establish transportation between Rangoon and Bangkok. Their resourceful, courageous officer, Colonel Nichol- son, sees this as a way of marshaling his soldiers’ skills and establishing morale in a demoralizing situation. So, after some stubborn resistance and negotiations, Colonel Nicholson leads his men in building a first-rate bridge, one superior to what the Japanese had been capable of. However, the Allies discover that the bridge is soon to be used as a crucial link in the transport of Japanese soldiers and supplies to the war zone to fight the Allied forces, so a delegation of rangers is sent out to blow it up. As Major Warden, Lt. Joyce, and the American Spears lay their demolition onto the bridge, planning to explode it, Colonel Nicholson discovers a post with the lead wires attached to it, leading to the demolition device. Seeing Joyce about to blow up the bridge, Nicholson joins with the Japanese officer and charges at the British lieutenant, killing him. Nicholson himself is then shot by Major Warden, but as he begins to die, he realizes his folly and falls on the demolition charge, setting off the explosive, and blowing up the bridge just as the Japanese train is crossing it.

Colonel Nicholson exemplifies the rigid rule-follower who loses sight of the purpose of building the bridge, which was to build morale for the Allied prison- ers, not to aid the enemy. But when the time came to destroy his handiwork, Nicholson could not do it, having made the bridge a moral fetish.

Fortunately, as he was dying, he came to his senses and served his mission. The duty of the British soldiers was to aid in defeating their lethal enemy. As prisoners, they could best serve that goal by staying alive and healthy, and a means to that subgoal was to keep their morale high by engaging in building the bridge. But when the situation altered, the main goal was served by destroy- ing the bridge. In both situations, the same high purpose existed—working for victory over one’s enemy, but the means changed as the circumstances changed.

A simpler example is that of Jesus breaking the Sabbath by picking food (work) to feed his disciples. When called to account by the Pharisees and charged with breaking the Sabbath law, he replied, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:23–27). The commandments were given to pro- mote human flourishing, not for their own sake.

CONCLUS ION

We have outlined a moderate objectivism, the thesis that a core set of moral principles is universally valid, applying to all people everywhere. Thus, we have answered the moral relativist and moral nihilist. The relativist holds that there are moral principles, but they are all relative to culture. The nihilist denies that there are any moral valid principles. We have argued that nihilism is false because valid moral principles exist, but we have acknowledged some relativity in ethics, espe- cially as morality comes close to etiquette. We have also noted that morality is situational: Principles can be applied differently in different contexts. We have

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argued that a common human nature is the basis of our thesis that there is a set of universally valid moral rules. There is a commonsense, functional account of objective morality following from the notion that morality serves specific human functions in promoting the human good. There is a naturalist commonsense account to establish the core morality, although others may rely on direct intui- tions or on religion to get to a similar conclusion.

Let’s return now to the relativist question raised in Chapter 2: “Who’s to judge what’s right and wrong?” The correct reply is, “We all are—every rational being on Earth must make moral judgments and be prepared to be held respon- sible for one’s own actions.” We are to judge based on the best reasoning that we can supply, in dialogue with other people of other cultures, and with sympa- thy and understanding. Virtually all moral theories recognize that morality serves the human good although they weigh that idea differently.

NOTES

1. Kevin Bales, Disposable People (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 1–2. Seba eventually escaped to tell her story.

2. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (London: MacMillan, 1892), Bk. 10, Ch. 7.

3. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, in Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, ed. A. C. Pegis (New York: Random House, 1945), Q94.

4. Eric D’Arcy, Human Acts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), Ch. 4.

5. William D. Ross, The Right and the Good (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932), p. 18f.

6. Renford Bambrough, Moral Skepticism and Moral Knowledge (London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul, 1979), p. 33.

7. Karl Sigmund, Ernest Fehr, and Martin Nowak, “The Economics of Fair Play,” Scientific American, January, 2002.

8. Pierre Boulle, The Bridge over the River Kwai (New York: Vanguard, 1954).

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

1. Analyze the story of Seba. What light does reflection on this illustration throw on the dispute between ethical relativism and objectivism?

2. What is the natural law position in morality? Evaluate it.

3. Discuss the doctrine of double effect (DDE). How valid is it?

4. Could terrorists use a version of the doctrine of double effect to justify their violent acts? Explain.

Additional questions online

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content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

5. What is the difference between moral absolutism and moral objectivism? Which position is the correct one, and why?

6. What is the difference between ethical relativism and ethical situationalism?

7. Consider the quote by David Hume at the opening of this chapter. Does it support moral objectivism? Explain.

8. What is a prima facie duty? Give some examples.

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4

Value and the Quest for

the Good

W hat sorts of things are valuable? Some items that we value are rather triv-ial, such as a new pair of shoes or one’s preferred brand of soda. Yes we enjoy them, but they have no real urgency. Other things, though, seem to be of ultimate importance, and at the top of that list many of us would place the value of human life. After all, it is hard to find value in anything unless we’re alive to experience it. Some of us might even claim to place an absolute value on human life. Now suppose I told you that I had invented a marvelous Convenience Machine that would save everyone an enormous amount of time and energy in our daily routines. However, the downside of the Convenience Machine is that its use would result in the deaths of over 75,000 Americans per year. Would you use this machine? Perhaps you’d refuse on the grounds that the value of life exceeds any amount of convenience.

But suppose our economy centered on the use of this machine, and without it, the nation would be thrown into an unparalleled economic depression. Per- haps you would still refuse to use it and insist that we change our economic expectations rather than continually sacrifice so many lives.

Well, we in fact have this Convenience Machine in several brands: Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Mercedes, and so on. Motor vehicle accidents in the United States result in about 30,000 deaths a year; another 50,000 deaths are caused by diseases brought on by automobile pollution. So how much do we really value life? Perhaps not as much as we often claim, and we certainly do not value life as an absolute. Some people say that it is the qual- ity of life rather than life itself that is valuable. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that when life became burdensome, one had the obligation to commit

44

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suicide, for it was not the quantity of life that counted but the quality. As one Stoic philosopher put it, “Mere living is not a good, but to live well is a good.”

The human life is just one example of a wide range of things that we find valu- able, and a complete list of them would probably be impossible to create. Nicholas Rescher, though, classifies some basic values into these eight categories:1

1. Material and physical value: health, comfort, physical security

2. Economic value: economic security, productiveness

3. Moral value: honesty, fairness, kindness

4. Social value: generosity, politeness, graciousness

5. Political value: freedom, justice

6. Aesthetic value: beauty, symmetry, grace

7. Religious value: piety, obedience, faith

8. Intellectual value: intelligence, clarity, knowledge

It is easy enough to devise a list of values like this: just think about what you do during the day and reflect on what is most important to you. What is less easy, though, is understanding why things are valuable to begin with and what, if any- thing, our various values have in common. In this chapter, we explore the notion of value and how value connects with issues of morality.

TYPES OF VALUES

Intrinsic and Instrumental Value

When we look at Rescher’s list of basic values, we see that some seem to be valuable for their own sake, such as beauty and justice, while others are valuable because of their beneficial consequences, such as physical and economic security. The essential difference here is between intrinsic and instrumental goods. Intrin- sic goods are good because of their nature and are not derived from other goods. By contrast, instrumental goods are worthy of desire because they are effective means of attaining our intrinsic goods. Plato makes this distinction in his book, The Republic, where the characters Socrates and Glaucon are talking:

SOCRATES: Tell me, do you think there is a kind of good which we welcome not because we desire its consequences but for its own sake: joy, for example, and all the harmless pleasures which have no further consequences beyond the joy which one finds in them?

GLAUCON: Certainly, I think there is such a good.

SOCRATES: Further, there is the good which we welcome for its own sake and also for its consequences, knowledge, for example, and sight and health. Such things we somehow welcome on both accounts.

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GLAUCON: Yes.

SOCRATES: Are you also aware of a third kind, such as physical training, being treated when ill, the practice of medicine, and other ways of making money? We should say that these are wearisome but beneficial to us; we should not want them for their own sake, but because of the rewards and other benefits which result from them.2

The question “What things are good or valuable?” is ambiguous. We need first to separate the kinds of values or goods there are. In the above, Socrates distin- guishes three kinds of goods: (1) purely intrinsic goods (of which simple joys are an example); (2) purely instrumental goods (of which medicine and making money are examples); and (3) combination goods (such as knowledge, sight, and health), which are good in themselves and good as a means to further goods.

The essential difference is between intrinsic and instrumental goods. We consider some things good or worthy of desire (desirable) in themselves and other things good or desirable only because of their consequences. Intrinsic goods are good because of their nature. They are not derived from other goods, whereas instrumental goods are worthy of desire because they are effec- tive means of attaining our intrinsic goods.

We may further distinguish an instrumental good from a good instrument. If something is an instrumental good, it is a means to attaining something that is intrinsically good; but merely to be a good instrument is to be an effective means to any goal, good or bad. For example, poison is a good instrument for murdering someone, but murder is not an intrinsically good thing; thus poison, in this use at least, is not an instrumental good.

Many things that we value are instrumental values. Socrates in our selection from The Republic mentions two instrumental values: medicine and money. Medi- cine is an instrumental good in that it can hardly be valued for its own sake. We can ask “What is medicine for?” The answer is, “It is to promote health.” But is health an intrinsic value or an instrumental one? Can we ask “What is health for?” Some will agree with Socrates that health is good for itself and for other things as well, such as happiness and creative activity. Others will dispute Socrates’ contention and judge health to be wholly an instrumental good.

Money is Socrates’ other example of an instrumental value. Few, if any, of us really value money for its own sake, but almost all of us value it for what it can buy. When we ask “What is money for?” we arrive at such goods as food and clothing, shelter and automobiles, and entertainment and education. But are any of these really intrinsic goods, or are they all instrumental goods? When we ask, for example, “What is entertainment for?” What answer do we come up with? Most of us would mention enjoyment or pleasure, Socrates’ example of an intrinsic good. Can we further ask “What is enjoyment or pleasure for?” We examine this question in the next section, but, before we do, we need to ask whether the notion of intrinsic values makes any sense.

Are there any intrinsic values? Are there any entities whose values are not derived from something else—that is, that are sought for their own sake, that are inherently good, good in themselves? Or are all values relative to desirers—that is, instrumental to goals that are the creation of choosers? Those who espouse the notion of intrinsic

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value usually argue that pleasure is an example of an intrinsic value and pain an exam- ple of an intrinsic disvalue: It is good to experience pleasure and bad to experience pain. Naturally, these philosophers admit that individual experiences of pleasure can be bad, because they result in some other disvalue such as a hangover after a drinking spree. Similarly, individual painful experiences can be valuable, for example, having a painful operation to save one’s life. The intrinsicalist affirms that pleasure is just better than pain.We can see this straight off. We do not need any arguments to convince us that pleasure is good or that gratuitous pain is intrinsically bad. Suppose we see a man torturing a child and order him to stop at once. If he replies, “I agree that the child is experiencing great pain, but why should I stop torturing her?” we would suspect some mental aberration on his part.

The nonintrinsicalist denies that the preceding arguments have any force. The notion that the experience itself could have any value is unclear. It is only by our choosing pleasure over pain that the notion of value begins to have meaning. In a sense, all value is extrinsic, or a product of choosing. Many exis- tentialists, most notably Jean-Paul Sartre, believe that we invent our values by arbitrary choice. The freedom to create our values and thus to define ourselves is godlike and, at the same time, deeply frightening, for we have no one to blame for our failures but ourselves. “We are condemned to freedom.… Value is nothing else but the meaning that you choose. One may choose anything so long as it is done from the ground of freedom.”3

But this seems wrong. We do not choose most of our values in the same way we choose between two different majors or whether to have soup or salad with our meal. We cannot help valuing pleasure, health, happiness, and love and disvaluing pain and suffering. With regard to the fundamental values, they choose us, not we them. Even Sartre’s condition for choosing a value, freedom, is not a value that we choose but have thrust upon us by our nature. We could override our freedom for other values, but we can no more choose whether to value it or not value it than we can choose whether or not to be hungry or thirsty after being deprived of food or drink for days. It is as though God or evolution preprogrammed us to desire these basic goods. And when we find someone who does not value (or claims not to value) happiness, freedom, or love, we tend to explain this anomaly as a product of unfortunate circumstances.

The Value of Pleasure

Philosophers divide into two broad camps: hedonists and nonhedonists. The hedo- nist (from hedon, Greek for “pleasure”) asserts that all pleasure is good, that pleasure is the only thing good in itself, and that all other goodness is derived from this value. An experience is good in itself if and only if it provides some pleasure. Sometimes, this definition is widened to include the lessening of pain, pain being seen as the only thing bad in itself. For simplicity’s sake, we will use the former definition, realizing that it may need to be supplemented by reference to pain.

Hedonists subdivide into two categories: (1) sensualism, the view that equates all pleasure with sensual enjoyment; and (2) satisfactionism, the view that equates all pleasure with satisfaction or enjoyment, which may not involve sensuality. Satisfaction is a pleasurable state of consciousness such as we might

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experience after accomplishing a successful venture or receiving a gift. The opposite of sensual enjoyment is physical pain; the opposite of satisfaction is dis- pleasure or dissatisfaction.

The Greek philosopher Aristippus (ca. 435–366 BCE) espoused the sensualist position; that is, the only (or primary) good was sensual pleasure, and this good- ness was defined in terms of its intensity.

This was also Mustapha Mond’s philosophy in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The brave new world is a society of the future where people have been liberated from disease, violence, and crime through immunization, genetic engineering, and behavior modification. They are protected from depression and unhappiness through a drug, soma, which offers them euphoric sensations. MustaphaMond, the brilliant manager of the society, defends this hedonistic utopia against one of the few remaining malcontents, the “Savage,” who complains that something of value is missing in this “utopia.” The following dialogue is between Mustapha Mond, the genius technocrat who governs the brave new world, and the malcontent, “Savage,” who believes that this hedonic paradise lacks something.

SAVAGE: Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.… But you don’t do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy.… Isn’t there something in living dangerously?

MUSTAPHA MOND: There’s a great deal in it.… Men and women must have their adrenals stimulated from time to time.… It’s one of the conditions of perfect health. That’s why we’ve made the VPS treatment compulsory.

SAVAGE: VPS?

MUSTAPHA MOND: Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It’s the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage … without any of the inconveniences.

SAVAGE: But I like the inconvenience.

MUSTAPHA MOND: In fact you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.…Not to men- tion the right to growold andugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to live in constant apprehension ofwhatmay happen tomorrow; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.

SAVAGE (after a long silence): I claim them all.

MUSTAPHA MOND (shrugging

his shoulders): You’re welcome.4

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All but sensuously deprived adolescents (or those in a similar psychological state) would probably agree that the brave new world is lacking something. The sensuous version of pleasure is too simple.

Most hedonists since the third century BCE follow Epicurus (342–270 BCE), who had a broader view of pleasure:

Life is not made pleasant through continued drinking and partying, or sexual encounters, or feasts of fish and other such things as a costly banquet offers. It is sober contemplation which examines into the reasons for all choice and avoidance, and which chases away vain opinions from which the greater part of the confusion arises which troubles the mind.5

The distinction between pleasure as satisfaction and as sensation is important, and failure to recognize it results in confusion and paradox. One example of this is the paradox of masochism. How can it be that the masochist enjoys—that is, takes pleasure in—pain, which is the opposite of pleasure? “Well,” the hedonist responds, “because of certain psychological aberrations, the masochist enjoys (as satisfaction) what is painful (as sensation).” But he or she does not enjoy (as sen- sation) what is painful (as sensation). There is also a two-level analysis to explain the masochist’s behavior: On a lower, or basic, level, he is experiencing either pain or dissatisfaction, but on a higher level, he approves and finds satisfaction from that pain or dissatisfaction.

Nonhedonists divide into two camps: monists and pluralists. Monists believe that there is a single intrinsic value, but it is not pleasure. Perhaps it is a transcen- dent value, “the Good,” which we do not fully comprehend but that is the basis of all our other values. This seems to be Plato’s view. Pluralists, by contrast, gen- erally admit that pleasure or enjoyment is an intrinsic good, but they add that there are other intrinsic goods as well, such as knowledge, friendship, aesthetic beauty, freedom, love, moral goodness, and life itself.

Hedonists such as Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) argue that although these qualities are good, their goodness is derived from the fact that they bring pleasure or satisfaction. Such hedonists ask of each of the previously mentioned values, “What is it for?”What is knowledge for? If it gave no one any satisfaction or enjoy- ment, would it really be good? Why do we feel there is a significant difference between knowing how many stairs there are in New York City and whether or not there is life after death? We normally do not value knowledge of the first kind, but knowledge of the second kind is relevant for our enjoyment.

The hedonist asks, “What are friendship and love for?” If we were made differently and got no satisfaction out of love and friendship, would they still be valuable? Are they not highly valuable, significant instrumental goods because they bring enormous satisfaction? Even moral commitment or conscientiousness is not good in itself, argues the hedonist. Morality is not intrinsically valuable but is meant to serve human need, which in turn has to do with bringing about satisfaction. And, life certainly is not intrinsically good. It is quality that counts. An amoeba or a permanently comatose patient has life but no intrinsic value. Only when consciousness appears does the possibility for value arrive. Con- sciousness is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for satisfaction.

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The nonhedonist responds that this is counterintuitive. Consider, for exam- ple, the possibility of living in a Pleasure Machine. We have invented a complex machine into which people may enter to find pure and constant pleasure. Attached to their brains will be electrodes that send currents to the limbic area of the cerebral cortex and other parts of the brain, producing very powerful sen- sations of pleasure. When people get into the machine, they experience these wonderful feelings. Would you enter such a machine?

If all you want is pleasure or satisfaction, then the Pleasure Machine seems the right choice. You’re guaranteed all the pleasure you’ve ever dreamed of— without frustration or competition from other people. But if you want to do something and be something (for example, have good character or a certain qual- ity of personality) or experience reality (for example, friendship and competi- tion), then you might think twice about this choice. Is the Pleasure Machine not just another addiction—like alcohol, heroin, cocaine, or crack? Once in the machine, would we become forever addicted to it? Furthermore, if all you want is pleasure, why not just hire someone to tickle you for a lifetime? Wouldn’t we become tired of being passive blobs—even if it was pleasurable? Most of us would reject such an existence as equivalent to that of a drugged cockroach.

Or suppose there were two worlds with the same number of people and the same amount of total pleasure, but in World I the people were selfish and even evil, whereas in World II the people were deeply moral. Wouldn’t it seem that World II was intrinsically better than World I?

Or imagine two lives, those of Suzy and Izzy. Suzy possesses 100 hedons (units of pleasure), even though she is severely retarded and physically disabled, whereas Izzy enjoys great mental acumen and physical prowess but has only 99 hedons. Isn’t it obvious that Izzy has the better life? But, hedonists are com- mitted to saying that Suzy’s life is better, which seems implausible.

It was these sorts of cases that led John Stuart Mill (1806–1873, to be exam- ined in Chapter 7)—in his classic work, Utilitarianism—to modify the hedonic doctrine, admitting that “it is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”6 He suggested that there were different qualities of pleasure and that those who had experienced the different kinds could distinguish among them. Whether the notion of quality of pleasure can save hedonism is a controversial matter, but many of us feel uneasy with the idea that pleasure alone is good. Some broader notion, such as happiness or object of desire, seems a more adequate candidate for what we mean by “value.”

FOUNDAT IONAL NATURE OF VALUES

Are Values Objective or Subjective?

Dowe desire the Good because it is good, or is the Good good because we desire it? The objectivist holds that values are worthy of desire whether or not anyone actu- ally desires them; they are somehow independent of us. The subjectivist holds, to the contrary, that values are dependent on desirers, are relative to desirers.

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The classic objectivist view on values (the absolutist version) was given by Plato (428–348 BCE), who taught that the Good was the highest form, inexpress- ible, godlike, independent, and knowable only after a protracted education in philosophy. We desire the Good because it is good. Philosophers in the Platonic tradition hold to the independent existence of values apart from human or ratio- nal interest. For example, G. E. Moore claims that the Good is a simple, unana- lyzable quality, such as the color yellow, but one that must be known through intuition. Moore believes that a world with beauty is more valuable than one that is a garbage dump, regardless of whether there are conscious beings in those worlds:

Let us imagine one world exceedingly beautiful. Imagine it as beautiful as you can … and then imagine the ugliest world you can possibly conceive. Imagine it simply one heap of filth.7

Moore asks us whether, even if there were no conscious beings who might derive pleasure or pain in either world, we would prefer the first world to exist rather than the second. Moore believes that it is obvious that the beautiful world is inherently better, but the objector asks, “What good is such a world if there is no one (even God) to enjoy it?”

Other, weaker objectivist versions treat values as emergent properties, or qualities in the nature of things. That is, just as the wetness of water is not in the H2O molecules but in the interaction of our nervous system with millions of those molecules, and just as smoothness is not in the table that I am touching but in the relationship between the electrical charges of the subatomic particles of which the table is made up and my nervous system, so values (or good quali- ties) emerge in the relationship between conscious beings and physical and social existence. They are synergistic entities, depending on both our nature and their objective properties.

For example, if we were not beings with desires, we would not be in a posi- tion to appreciate values; but once there are such beings, certain things—such as pleasure, knowledge, freedom, friendship, and health—will be valuable, and others—such as pain, suffering, boredom, loneliness, disease, and death—will be disvalued or not valued for their own sake. This synergistic view recognizes both a subjective and an objective aspect to value.

Subjectivism treats values as merely products of conscious desire. The American pragmatist Ralph Barton Perry (1876–1957) states that a value is sim- ply the object of interest.8 Values are created by desires, and they are valuable just to that degree to which they are desired: The stronger the desire, the greater the value. The difference between the subjectivist and the weak objectivist posi- tion (or mixed view) is simply that the subjectivist makes no normative claims about “proper desiring,” instead judging all desires as equal. Anything one hap- pens to desire is, by definition, a value, a good.

The objectivist responds that we can separate the Good from what one desires. We can say, for example, that Joan desires more than anything else to get into the Pleasure Machine, but it is not good; or that John desires more than anything else to join the Satanic Society, where he will pursue evil for

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evil’s sake, engaging in sadomasochistic behavior, but it is not good (not even for John). There is something just plain bad about the Pleasure Machine and the Satanic Society, even if Joan and John never experience any dissatisfaction on account of them.

On the other hand, suppose Joan does not want to have any friends and John does not want to know any history, literature, philosophy, or science. The objectivist would reply that it really would be an objectively good thing if Joan did have friends and if John knew something about history, literature, phi- losophy, and science.

Perhaps a way to adjudicate the disagreement between the subjectivist and the objectivist is to imagine an Ideal Desirer, a person who is impartial and has maximal knowledge of the consequences of all actions. What the Ideal Desirer chooses is by definition the “good,” and what he or she disdains is the “bad.” If so, we can approximate such an ideal perspective by increasing our understand- ing and ability to judge impartially. The study of philosophy, especially moral philosophy, has as one of its main goals such an ability.

The Relation of Value to Morality

Typically, value theory is at the heart of moral theory. The question, however, is whether moral right and wrong are themselves intrinsic values (as Kant states, the moral law is “a jewel that shines in its own light”) or whether rightness and wrong- ness are defined by their ability to further nonmoral values such as pleasure, happi- ness, health, and political harmony. To begin to understand this question and to get an overview of the workings of morality, let me offer a schema of the moral process (Figure 4.1), which may help in locating the role of values in moral theory.

The location of values in the schema of the moral process (box 3) indicates that values are central to the domain of morality. They are the source of princi- ples (box 4) and rooted in the forms of life (box 2). Examples of values are life, loving relationships, freedom, privacy, happiness, creative activity, knowledge, health, integrity, and rationality. From our values, we derive principles (box 4), which we may call action-guiding value “instantiators” or “exemplifiers” (because they make clear the action-guiding or prescriptive force latent in values). From the value “life,” we derive the principles “Promote and protect life” and/or “Thou shall not kill.” From the value “freedom,” we derive the principle “Thou shall not deprive another of his or her freedom.” From the value “privacy,” we derive the principle “Respect every person’s privacy.” From the value “happiness,” we derive the principle “Promote human happi- ness,” and so forth with all the other values.

This schema makes no judgment as to whether values are objective or subjective, intrinsic or instrumental. Neither does it take a stand on whether values or principles are absolute; they need not be absolute. Most systems allow that all or most values and principles are overrideable. That is, they are consid- erations that direct our actions, and whenever they clash, an adjudication must take place to decide which principle overrides the other in the present circumstances.

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7 ACTIONS

Failure: weakness of will leads to guilt

6 DECISIONS

Failure: perverse will leads to guilt

5 JUDGMENTS Weighing

Failure: error in application

4 PRINCIPLES

Normative questions: What ought I to do?

3 VALUES Objects of desire or objects existing independently of desires

2 FORMS OF LIFE Hierarchies of beliefs, values, and practices; cultures or ways of life

1 RATIONAL JUSTIFICATION 1. Impartiality 2. Freedom Ideal conditions 3. Knowledge } Of ethical theories

F I G U R E 4.1 Schema of the moral process

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We often find ourselves in moral situations in which one or more principles apply. We speak of making a judgment as to which principle applies to our situation or which principle wins out in the competition when two or more principles apply (box 5). The correct principle defines our duty. For example, we have the opportu- nity to cheat on a test and immediately judge that the principle of honesty (derived from the value integrity) applies to our situation. Or there might be an interpersonal disagreement in which two or more people differ on which of two values outweighs the other in importance, as when Mary argues that Jill should not have an abortion because the value of life outweighs Jill’s freedom and bodily integrity, but John argues that Jill’s freedom and bodily integrity outweigh the value of life.

Even after we judge which principle applies, we are not yet finished with the moral process. We must still decide to do the morally right act. Then finally, we must actually do the right act.

Note the possibilities for failure all along the way.We may fail to apply the right principle to the situation (the arrow between boxes 4 and 5). For example, we may simply neglect to bring to mind the principle against cheating. This is a failure of application. But even after we make the correct judgment, we may fail to make the right choice, deciding to cheat anyway. In this case, we have a perverse will (the arrow between boxes 5 and 6). Finally, we may make the correct choice but fail to carry out our decision (the arrow between boxes 6 and 7). We call this weakness of will: We mean to do the right act but simply are too morally weak to accomplish it. In our example, we meant to refrain from cheating but could not control ourselves. “The good that I would, I do not, but the evil that I would not, that I do.”9

A more controversial matter concerns the deep structure in which values are rooted. Some theories deny that there is any deep structure but assert instead that values simply exist in their own right—independently, as it were. More often, how- ever, values are seen as rooted inwhole forms of life (box 2) that can be actual or ideal, such as Plato’s hierarchical society or Aristotle’s aristocracy or the Judeo-Christian notion of the kingdom of God (the ideal synagogue or church). Ways of life or cul- tures are holistic and hierarchical combinations of beliefs, values, and practices.

The deepest question about morality is whether and how these forms of life are justified (box 1). Are some forms of life better or more justified than others? If so, how does one justify a form of life? Candidates for justification are ideas such as God’s will, human happiness, the flourishing of all creation, the canons of impartiality and knowledge, a deeply rational social contract (Hobbes and Rawls), and the like. For example, a theist might argue that the ideal system of morality (that is, the ideal form of life) is justified by being commanded by God. A utilitarian would maintain that the ultimate criterion is the promotion of wel- fare or utility. A naturalist or secular humanist might argue that the ideal system is justified by the fact that it best meets human need or promotes human flour- ishing or that it would be the one chosen by ideally rational persons. Some ethi- cists would make level 2 the final source of justification, denying that there is any ideal justification at all. These are the ethical relativists, who contend that each moral system is correct simply by being chosen by the culture or individual.

The main point of the schema, however, is not to decide on the exact deep structure of morality but to indicate that values are rooted in cultural constructs

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and are the foundation for moral principles upon which moral reasoning is based. We could also devise a similar schema for the relationship between values and virtues (to be discussed in Chapter 9). Each virtue is based on a value and each vice on a disvalue.

THE GOOD L IFE

Finally, we want to ask what kind of life is most worth living. Aristotle (384–322 BCE) wrote long ago that what all people seek is happiness:

There is very general agreement; for both the common person and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happi- ness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth or honor.10

What is happiness? Again, the field divides up among objectivists, subjecti- vists, and combination theorists. The objectivists, following Plato and Aristotle, distinguish happiness from pleasure and speak of a single ideal for human nature; if we do not reach that ideal, then we have failed. Happiness (from the Greek eudaimonia, literally meaning “good demon”) is not merely a subjective state of pleasure or contentment but the kind of life we would all want to live if we understood our essential nature. Just as knives and forks and wheels have func- tions, so do species, including the human species. Our function (sometimes called our “essence”) is to live according to reason and thereby to become a cer- tain sort of highly rational, disciplined being. When we fulfill the ideal of living the virtuous life, we are truly happy.

Plato speaks of happiness as “harmony of the soul.” Just as the body is healthy when it is in harmony with itself and the political state is a good state when it is functioning harmoniously, so the soul is happy when all its features are functioning in harmonious accord, with the rational faculty ruling over the spir- ited and emotional elements. Although we no doubt know when we are happy and feel good about ourselves, the subjective feeling does not itself define happiness, for people who fail to attain human excellence can also feel happy via self-deception or ignorance.

The objectivist view fell out of favor with the rise of the evolutionary account of human nature, which undermined the sense of a preordained essence or function. Science cannot discover any innate telos, or goal, to which all people must strive. The contemporary bias is in favor of value pluralism—that is, the view that there are many ways of finding happiness: “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” This leads to subjectivism.

The subjectivist version of happiness states that happiness is in the eyes of the beholder. You are just as happy as you think you are—no more, no less. The concept is not a descriptive one but a first-person evaluation. I am the only one who decides or knows whether I am happy. If I feel happy, I am happy,

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even though everyone else despises my lifestyle. Logically, happiness has nothing to do with virtue, although—because of our social nature—it usually turns out that we will feel better about ourselves if we are virtuous.

The combination view tries to incorporate aspects of both the objectivist and the subjectivist views. One version is John Rawls’s “plan of life” conception of happiness: There is a plurality of life plans open to each person, and what is important is that the plan be an integrated whole, freely chosen by the person, and that the person be successful in realizing his or her goals. This view is pre- dominantly subjective in that it recognizes the person as the autonomous chooser of goals and a plan. Even if a person should choose a life plan.

whose only pleasure is to count blades of grass in various geometrically shaped areas such as park squares and well-trimmed lawns, … our defi- nition of the good forces us to admit that the good for this man is indeed counting blades of grass.11

However, Rawls recognizes an objective element in an otherwise subjective schema. There are primary goods that are necessary to any worthwhile life plan: “rights and liberties, powers and opportunities, income and wealth … self- respect … health and vigor, intelligence and imagination.”12 The primary goods function as the core (or the hub of the wheel) from which may be derived any number of possible life plans (the spokes). But unless these primary goods (or most of them) are present, the life plan is not an authentic manifestation of an individual’s autonomous choice of his or her own selfhood. Thus, it is perfectly possible that people believe themselves to be happy when they really are not.

Although subjectivist and plan-of-life views dominate the literature today, there is some movement back to an essentialist, or Aristotelian, view of happiness as a life directed toward worthwhile goals. Some lifestyles are more worthy than others, and some may be worthless. Philosopher Richard Kraut asks us to imag- ine a man who has as his idea of happiness the state of affairs of being loved, admired, or respected by his friends and who would hate to have his “friends” only pretend to care for him. Suppose his “friends” really do hate him but “orchestrate an elaborate deception, giving him every reason to believe that they love and admire him, though in fact they don’t. And he is taken in by the illusion.”13 Can we really call this man happy?

Or suppose a woman centers her entire life around an imaginary Prince Charming. She refuses to date—let alone marry—perfectly eligible young men; she turns down educational travel opportunities lest they distract her from this wonderful future event; for 95 years, she bores all her patient friends with tales of the prince’s imminent appearance. As death approaches at age 96, after a lifetime of disappointment, she discovers that she’s been duped; she suddenly rea- lizes that what appeared to be a happy life was a stupid, self-deceived, miserable existence. Would we say that our heroine was happy up until her deathbed reve- lation? Do these thought experiments not indicate that our happiness depends, at least to some extent, on reality and not simply on our own evaluation?

Or suppose we improve on our Pleasure Machine, turning it into a Happiness Machine. This machine is a large tub that is filled with a chemical solution. Electrodes

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are attached to many more parts of your brain. You work with the technician to program all the “happy experiences” that you have ever wanted. Suppose that includes wanting to be a football star, a halfback who breaks tackles like a dog shakes off fleas and who has a fondness for scoring last-minute game-winning touchdowns. Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to be a movie star and to bask in the public’s love and admiration. Or maybe you’ve wanted to be the world’s richest person, living in the splendor of a magnificent castle, with servants faithfully at your beck and call. In fact, with the Happiness Machine you can have all of these plus passionate romance and the love of the most beautiful (or handsome) people in the world. All these mar- velous adventures would be simulated, and you would truly believe you were experiencing them. Would you enter the Happiness Machine?

What if I told you that once you were unplugged, you could either stay out or go in for another round but that no one who entered the machine ever chose to leave of his or her own accord, having become addicted to its pleasures and believing that reality could never match its ecstasy. Now you have an opportu- nity to enter the Happiness Machine for the first time. Will you enter? If not, are you not voting against making the subjectivist view (or even the plan-of-life view) the sole interpretation of happiness?

When I ask this question in class, I get mixed responses. Many students say they would enter the Happiness Machine; most say they would not. I myself would not, for the same reason that I do not use drugs and rarely watch televi- sion or spectator sports—because some very important things are missing that are necessary for the happy life. What are these vital missing ingredients?

1. Action. We are entirely passive in the machine, a mere spectator. But the good life requires participation in our own destiny. We don’t just want things to happen to us; we want to accomplish things, even at the risk of failure.

2. Freedom. Not only do we want to do things, but we want to make choices. In the Happiness Machine, we are entirely determined by a preordained plan—we cannot do otherwise. In fact, we cannot do anything but react to what has been programmed into the machine.

3. Character.Not only do we want to do things and act freely, but we also want to be something and someone. To have character is to be a certain kind of person, ideally one who is trustworthy, worthy of respect, and responsible for one’s actions. In the machine, we lose our identity. We are defined only by our experience but have no character. We are not persons who act out of set dispo- sitions, for we never act at all. We are mere floating blobs in a glorified bathtub.

4. Relationships. There are no real people in our Happiness Machine life. We subsist in splendid solipsism. All the world is a figment of our imagination as dictated by the machine; our friends and loved ones are mere products of our fancy. But we want to love and be loved by real people, not by phantasms.

In sum, the Happiness Machine is a myth, all appearance and no reality—a bliss bought at too high a price, a deception! If this is so and if reality is a neces- sary condition for the truly worthwhile life, then we cannot be happy in the Happiness Machine. But neither can we be happy outside of the Happiness

VALUE AND THE QUEST FOR THE GOOD 57

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Machine when the same necessary ingredients are missing: activity, freedom, moral character, loving relationships, and a strong sense of reality.

The objective and subjective views of happiness assess life from different perspec- tives, with the objectivist assuming that there is some kind of independent standard of assessment and the subjectivist denying it. Even though there seems to be an immense variety of lifestyles that could be considered intrinsically worthwhile or happy and even though some subjective approval or satisfaction seems necessary before we are willing to attribute the adjective “happy” to a life, there do seem to be limiting con- ditions on what may count as happy.We have a notion of fittingness for the good life, which would normally exclude being severely retarded, being a slave, or being a drug addict (no matter how satisfied) and which would include being a deeply fulfilled, autonomous, healthy person. It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than to be the pig satisfied, but only the satisfied Socrates is happy.

This moderate objectivism is set forth by John Stuart Mill. Happiness, according to Mill, is

not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predom- inance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing.14

This conception of happiness is worth pondering. It includes activity, freedom, and reality components, which exclude being satisfied by the passive experience in the Happiness Machine, and it supposes that some pleasing experi- ences are better than others. I would add to Mill’s definition the ingredients of moral character and loving relations. A closer approximation might go like this:

Happiness is a life in which there exists free action (including meaning- ful work), loving relations, and moral character and in which the indi- vidual is not plagued by guilt and anxiety but is blessed with peace and satisfaction.

The satisfaction should not be confused with complacency; rather, it means contentment with one’s lot—even as one strives to improve it. Whether this neoobjectivist, Millian view of happiness is adequate, you must decide.

CONCLUS ION

In this chapter, we have seen that there is a range of ways to dissect the notion of moral goodness. Some goods are intrinsic because of their nature and are not derived from other goods, and others are instrumental because they are effective means of attaining intrinsic goods. Goods are often connected with pleasure; sensu- alism equates all pleasure with sensual enjoyment, whereas satisfactionism identifies all pleasure with satisfaction or enjoyment, which may not involve sensuality. There is a debate whether values are objective or subjective. Plato held the former position, maintaining that goods have an independent existence of values apart

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from human or rational interest; Perry held the latter view that values are merely products of conscious desire. Although value theory is at the center of moral theory, there is dispute about whether the moral notions of right and wrong are themselves intrinsic values. Finally, there is the issue of how values are connected with human happiness and the good life, particularly whether there is a human purpose, or telos, that defines our capacity for happiness in terms of specific values.

NOTES

1. Nicholas Rescher, Introduction to Value Theory (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1969), p. 16.

2. Plato’s The Republic, Bk. II, trans. G. M. A. Grube (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1980).

3. Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Philosophical Library, 1957), pp. 23, 48–49.

4. Adapted from Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (New York: Harper Row, 1932), pp. 286–287.

5. Adapted from Epicurus, “Letter to Menoeceus,” in Diogenes Laertius’s Lives of Eminent Philosophers, tr. C. D. Yonge.

6. From John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (1863); reprinted in Ethical Theory, ed. Louis Pojman (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011).

7. G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903), sect. 50.

8. R. B. Perry, Realms of Value (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954).

9. Paul, in Romans 7:15.

10. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. William D. Ross (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1925), Bk. I: 4, p. 1095.

11. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 432. See Pau Taylor’s discussion in his Principles of Ethics (Belmont, CA: Wads- worth, 1989), Ch. 6.

12. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, p. 62.

13. Richard Kraut, “Two Concepts of Happiness,” Philosophical Review (1979); reprinted in Ethical Theory, ed. Louis Pojman.

14. John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (1863), Ch. 2; reprinted in Ethical Theory, ed. Louis Pojman.

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Look at Rescher’s list of basic values at the opening of this chapter. Which of the eight types of values are the most important, and why?

2. List five values that you think are intrinsic (as opposed to instrumental) and explain why.

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3. The section in this chapter on value and pleasure describes a Pleasure Machine. If you could, would you live your life in the Pleasure Machine?

4. Are values objective or subjective? That is, do we desire the Good because it is good, or is the Good good because we desire it?

5. The section in this chapter on the good life describes a Happiness Machine—an improved version of the Pleasure Machine. If you could, would you live your life in the Happiness Machine?

6. The section in this chapter on the good life discusses several theories of happiness. Which one seems closest to the truth?

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5

Social Contract Theory and the

Motive to Be Moral

C arl owns a very profitable car dealership, and he attributes its success to longhours, talented workers, and, most important, using every trick in the book to manipulate buyers. The cars themselves are not particularly well constructed or fuel efficient, but he claims the exact opposite in his advertisements. Once customers are on his lot, his sales staff takes over, buttering up prospective buyers and seeking out their psychological vulnerabilities. Because they work on com- mission, it’s in their best interest to charge the highest possible price for vehicles, so they budge little from the retail sticker price and secretly add on extra expenses for useless features. They especially inflate prices for women, racial minorities, and the elderly, who frequently end up spending a thousand dollars more on exactly the same vehicle that other customers buy. They coax low- income customers into purchasing luxury vehicles well beyond their price range; as long as loan companies are willing to foot the bill, it’s no loss to Carl’s dealership if the customers default on loan payments. And when cars come in for repair, the mechanics, who also work on commission, trick custo- mers into paying for expensive repairs that they don’t need. At the end of the day, Carl and his workers go home to their families, giving little thought to the morality of their conduct during business hours.

Although Carl is a fictitious character, all these abuses are well documented among car dealerships. By breaking the rules of morality in seemingly undetect- able ways, car dealers and mechanics routinely pad their pockets at the expense of unsuspecting customers. Attempts to cheat the system are clearly not confined to the business world. Over half of all college students cheat on exams, essays, or

61

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homework. One in five taxpayers thinks it is okay to cheat on taxes. With more serious offenses, 3 percent of adult Americans are currently behind bars, on pro- bation, or on parole—and those are just the ones who have been caught.

With human self-interest as strong as it is, what can motivate us to always follow the rules of morality? Asked more simply, “Why be moral?” Among the more common answers are these:

■ Behaving morally is a matter of self-respect. ■ People won’t like us if we behave immorally. ■ Society punishes immoral behavior. ■ God tells us to be moral. ■ Parents need to be moral role models for their children.

These are all good answers, and each may be a powerful motivation for the right person. With religious believers, for example, having faith in God and divine judgment might prompt them to act properly. With parents, the respon- sibility of raising another human being might force them to adopt a higher set of moral standards than they would otherwise. However, many of these answers will not apply to every person: nonbelievers, nonparents, people who don’t respect themselves, people who think that they can escape punishment.

One of the more universal motivations to be moral is explained in a philo- sophical view known as social contract theory. The central idea is that people collectively agree to behave morally as a way to reduce social chaos and create peace. Through this agreement—or “contract”—I set aside my own individual hostilities toward others, and in exchange they set aside their hostilities toward me. Life is then better for all of us when we collectively follow basic moral rules.

There are two distinct components to the question “Why be moral?”:

1. Why does society need moral rules?

2. Why should I be moral?

The first question asks for a justification for the institution of morality within our larger social framework. The second asks for reasons why I personally should be moral even when it does not appear to be in my interest. This chapter explores social contract theory’s answers to both of these questions. We should note that social contract theory is also an important political concept insofar as it explains where governments get their authority: Citizens agree to give govern- ments power as a means of keeping society peaceful. However, our focus here is on social contract theory’s answer to the uniquely ethical question “Why be moral?”

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WHY DOES SOCIETY NEED MORAL RULES?

Why does society need moral rules? What does morality do for us that no other social arrangement does? Social contract theory’s answer is forcefully presented in the book Leviathan (1651) by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679).

Hobbes and the State of Nature

Hobbes believed that human beings always act out of perceived self-interest; that is, we invariably seek gratification and avoid harm. His argument goes like this: Nature has made us basically equal in physical and mental abilities so that, even though one person may be somewhat stronger or smarter than another, each has the ability to harm and even kill the other, if not alone then in alliance with others. Furthermore, we all want to attain our goals such as having sufficient food, shelter, security, power, wealth, and other scarce resources. These two facts, equality of ability to harm and desire to satisfy our goals, lead to social instability:

From this equality of ability arises equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore if any two people desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end, which is principally their own preservation and sometimes their enjoyment only, endeavor to destroy or subdue one another. And from hence it comes to pass, that where an invader hath no more to fear, than another man’s single power; if one plant, sow, build, or possess a convenient seat, others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces united, to dispossess, and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labor, but also of his life or liberty. And the invader again is in the like danger of another.1

Given this state of insecurity, people have reason to fear one another. Hobbes calls this a state of nature, in which there are no common ways of life, no enforced laws or moral rules, and no justice or injustice, for these concepts do not apply. There are no reliable expectations about other people’s behavior, except that they will follow their own inclinations and perceived interests, tending to be arbi- trary, violent, and impulsive. The result is a war of all against all:

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is for every man, against every man. For war consists not in battle only or in the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend in battle is sufficiently known: and there- fore the notion of time, is to be considered in the nature of war; as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lies not in the shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together; so the nature of war consists not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no disposition to the contrary.

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Hobbes described the consequence of this warring state of nature here:

In such a condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no cultivating of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the comfortable buildings; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowl- edge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no literature; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of vio- lent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

But this state of nature, or more exactly, state of anarchy and chaos, is in no one’s interest. We can all do better if we compromise, give up some of our natural liberty —to do as we please—so that we will all be more likely to get what we want: secu- rity, happiness, power, prosperity, and peace. So, selfish yet rational people that we are, according to Hobbes, we give up some of our liberty and agree to a social contract, or covenant. This agreement sets up both rules and a governing force: The rules create an atmosphere of peace, and the government ensures that we follow the rules out of fear of punishment. For Hobbes, only within this contract does morality arise and do justice and injustice come into being. Where there is no enforceable law, there is neither right nor wrong, justice nor injustice.

Thus, morality is a form of social control. We all opt for an enforceable set of rules such that if most of us obey them most of the time, then most of us will be better off most of the time. Perhaps a select few people may actually be better off in the state of nature, but the vast majority will be better off in a situation of security and mutual cooperation. Some people may cheat and thus go back on the social contract, but as long as the majority honors the contract most of the time, we will all flourish.

Hobbes does not claim that a pure state of nature ever existed or that humanity ever really formally entered into such a contract, although he notes that such a state actually exists among nations, so a “cold war” keeps us all in fear. Rather, Hobbes explains the function of morality. He answers the question “Why do we need morality?” Why? Because without it, existence would be an unbearable hell in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Hobbesian Morality and Lord of the Flies

William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies (1954)2 brilliantly portrays the Hobbesian account of morality. In this work, a group of boys, ages 6 to 12 years old, from an English private school, have been cast adrift on an uninhabited Pacific island and have created their own social system. For a while, the con- straints of civilized society keep things peaceful, but soon their system unravels into brutal chaos. The title Lord of the Flies comes from a translation of the Greek “Beelzebub,” which is a name for the devil. Golding’s point is that we need no external devil to bring about evil but that we have found the devil and he is us. Ever-present, ever-waiting for a moment to strike, the devil emerges from the depths of the subconscious whenever there is a conflict of interest or a moment of moral laziness. Let’s consider some main themes of Golding’s story, which

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illustrate how the dominance of the devil within us proceeds through fear, hys- teria, violence, and ultimately leads to death.

In the novel, all the older boys recognize the necessity of procedural rules. During an assembly, only the boy who has the white conch shell, the symbol of authority, may speak. They choose the leader democratically and invest him with limited powers. Even the evil Roger, while taunting little Henry by throwing stones near him, manages to keep the stones from harming the child:

Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.

After some initial euphoria in being liberated from the adult world of con- straints and entering an exciting world of fun in the sun, the children come up against the usual irritations of social existence: competition for power and status, neglect of social responsibility, failure of public policy, and escalating violence. Two boys, Ralph and Jack, vie for leadership, and a bitter rivalry emerges between them. As a compromise, a division of labor ensues in which Jack’s choirboy hunters refuse to help the others in constructing shelters. Freeloading soon becomes com- mon because most of the children leave their tasks to play on the beach. Neglect of duty results in their failure to be rescued by a passing airplane.

Civilization’s power is weak and vulnerable to primitive, explosive passions. The sensitive Simon, the symbol of religious consciousness, is slaughtered by the group in a wild fury. Only Piggy and Ralph, mere observers of the homicide, feel sympathetic pangs of guilt at this atrocity.

Piggy (the incarnation of philosophy and culture) with his broken spectacles and asthma becomes ever more pathetic as the chaos increases. He reaches the depths of his ridiculous position after the rebels, led by Jack, steal his spectacles to harness the sun’s rays for starting fires. Ralph, the emblem of not-too-bright but morally good civilized leadership, fails to persuade Jack to return the glasses, and Piggy then asserts his moral right to them:

You’re stronger than I am and you haven’t got asthma. You can see…. But I don’t ask for my glasses back, not as a favor. I don’t ask you to be a sport … not because you’re strong, but because what’s right’s right. Give me my glasses…. You got to.

Piggy might as well have addressed the fire itself, for in this state of moral anarchy, moral discourse is a foreign tongue that only incites the worst elements to greater immorality. Roger, perched on a cliff above, responds to moral rea- soning by dislodging a huge rock that hits Piggy and flings him to his death 40 feet below.

A delegation starts out hunting pigs for meat. Then they find themselves enjoy- ing the kill. To drown the initial shame over bloodthirstiness and take on a persona more compatible with their deed, the children paint themselves with colored mud. Being liberated from their social selves, they kill without remorse whoever gets in their way. The deaths of Simon and Piggy (the symbols of the religious and the

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philosophical, the two great fences blocking the descent to hell) and the final hunt with the “spear sharpened at both ends” signal for Ralph the depths of evil in the human heart.

Ironically, it is the British navy that finally comes to the rescue and saves Ralph (civilization) just when all seems lost. But, the symbol of the navy is a two-faced warning. On the one hand, it symbolizes that a military defense is unfortunately sometimes needed to save civilization from the barbarians (Hitler’s Nazis or Jack and Roger’s allies), but on the other hand it symbolizes the quest for blood and vengeance hidden in contemporary civilization. The children’s world is really only a stage lower than the adult world from whence they come, and that shallow adult civilization could very well regress to tooth and claw if it were scratched too sharply. The children were saved by the adults, but who will save the adults who put so much emphasis on military enterprises and weapons systems in the name of so-called defense?

The fundamental ambiguity of human existence is visible in every section of the book, poignantly mirroring the human condition. Even Piggy’s spectacles, the sole example of modern technology on the island, become a curse for the island as Jack uses them to ignite a forest fire that will smoke out their prey, Ralph, and burn down the entire forest and destroy the island’s animal life. It is a symbol both of our penchant for misusing technology to vitiate the environ- ment and our ability to create weapons that will lead to global suicide.

Social Order and the Benefits of Morality

We learn from Lord of the Flies that rules formed over the ages and internalized within us hold us back and hopefully defeat the devil in society, wherever that devil might reside. Again, from Hobbes’s perspective, morality consists of a set of rules such that, if nearly everyone follows them, then nearly everyone will flour- ish. These rules restrict our freedom but promote greater freedom and well- being. More specifically, the five social benefits of establishing and obeying moral rules accomplish the following:

1. Keep society from falling apart.

2. Reduce human suffering.

3. Promote human flourishing.

4. Resolve conflicts of interest in just and orderly ways.

5. Assign praise and blame, reward and punishment, and guilt.

All these benefits have in common the fact that morality is a social activity: It has to do with society, not the individual in isolation. If only one person exists on an island, no morality exists; indeed, some behavior would be better for that person than others—such as eating coconuts rather than sand—but there would not be morality in the full meaning of that term. However, as soon as a second person appears on that island, morality also appears. Morality is thus a set of rules that enable us to reach our collective goals. Imagine what society would be like if we did whatever we pleased without obeying moral rules. I might promise to

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help you with your homework tomorrow if you wash my car today. You believe me. So you wash my car, but you are angered when I laugh at you tomorrow while driving off to the beach instead of helping you with your homework. Or you loan me money, but I run off with it. Or I lie to you or harm you when it is in my interest or even kill you when I feel the urge.

Under such circumstances, society would completely break down. Parents would abandon children, and spouses would betray each other whenever it was convenient. No one would have an incentive to help anyone else because coop- erative agreements would not be recognized. Great suffering would go largely unhindered, and people would not be very happy. We would not flourish or reach our highest potential.

I visited the country of Kazakhstan shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it was undergoing a difficult shift from communism to democracy. During this transition with the state’s power considerably withdrawn, crime was increasing and distrust was prevalent. At night, trying to navigate my way up the staircases in the apartment building where I was staying, I was in complete dark- ness. I asked why there were no light bulbs in the stairwells, only to be told that the residents stole them, believing that, if they did not take them, their neighbors would. Absent a dominant authority, the social contract had eroded, and every- one had to struggle in the darkness—both literally and metaphorically.

We need moral rules to guide our actions in ways that light up our paths and prevent and reduce suffering, enhance human well-being (and animal well- being, for that matter), resolve our conflicts of interest according to recognizably fair rules, and assign responsibility for actions so that we can praise, blame, reward, and punish people according to how their actions reflect moral princi- ples. In a world becoming ever more interdependent, with the threats of terror- ism and genocide, we need a sense of global cooperation and a strong notion of moral responsibility. If the global community is to survive and flourish, we need morality as much now as we ever have in the past.

WHY SHOULD I BE MORAL?

Let’s agree with Hobbes’s social contract theory that moral rules are needed for social order: Morality serves as an important antidote to the state of nature, and unless there is general adherence to the moral point of view, society will break down. There remains, though, a nagging question: “Why should I join in?” If I’m sly enough, I can break moral rules when they benefit me but never get caught and thus avoid being punished. What motivation is there for me to accept the moral viewpoint at all? This question was raised over two millennia ago by Plato in his dialogue, The Republic, where he tells the story of Gyges.

The Story of Gyges

In Plato’s story, Gyges is a shepherd who stumbles upon a ring that at his com- mand makes him invisible and, while in that state, he can indulge in his greed to

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the fullest without fear of getting caught. He can thus escape the restraints of society, its laws, and punishments. So, he kills the king, seduces his wife, and becomes king himself. The pertinent question raised by the story is this: Wouldn’t we all do likewise if we too had this ring?

To sharpen this question, let’s recast the Gyges story in contemporary terms. Suppose there were two brothers, Jim and Jack. Jim was a splendid fellow, kind and compassionate, almost saintly, always sacrificing for the poor, helping others. In fact, he was too good to be true. As a young man, he was framed by Jack for a serious crime, was imprisoned, and was constantly harassed and tortured by the guards and prisoners. When released, he could not secure employment and was forced to beg for his food. Now he lives as a streetperson in a large city, in poor health, without a family, and without shelter. People avoid him whenever they can because he looks dangerous. Yet, in truth, his heart is as pure as the driven snow.

Jack, the older brother who framed Jim, is as evil as Jim is good. He also is as “successful” as Jim is “unsuccessful.” He is the embodiment of respectability and civic virtue. He is a rising and wealthy corporate executive who is praised by all for his astuteness and appearance of integrity (the latter of which he lacks completely). He is married to the most beautiful woman in the community, and his children all go to the best private schools. Jack’s wife is completely taken in by his performance, and his children, who hardly know him, love him uncondition- ally. He is an elder in his church, on the board of directors of various charity groups, and he was voted the Ideal Citizen of his city. Teachers use him as an example of how one can be both morally virtuous and a successful entrepreneur. He is honored and admired by all. Yet he has attained all his success and wealth by ruthlessly destroying people who trusted him. He is in reality an evil man.

So, the question posed by the story of Gyges is this: If you had to make a choice between living either of these lives, which life would you choose? That of the unjust brother Jack who is incredibly successful or that of the just brother Jim who is incredibly unsuccessful?

Let’s consider two reasons for opting to live the life of Jim, the good man who through no fault of his own is a social outcast. Plato argued that we should choose the life of the “unsuccessful” just person because it’s to our advantage to be moral. He draws attention to the idea of the harmony of the soul and argues that immorality corrupts the inner person, whereas virtue purifies the inner per- son, so one is happy or unhappy in exact proportion to one’s moral integrity. Asking to choose between being morally good and immoral is like asking to choose between being healthy and sick. Even if the immoral person has material benefits, he cannot enjoy them in his awful state, whereas the good person may find joy in the simple pleasures despite poverty and ill fortune.

Is Plato correct? Is the harm that Jim suffers compensated by the inner goodness of his heart? Is the good that Jack experiences outweighed by the evil of his heart? Perhaps we do not know enough about the hearts of people to be certain who is better off, Jim or Jack. But perhaps we can imagine people like Jack who seem to flourish despite their wickedness. They may not fool us completely, but they seem satisfied with the lives they are living, moderately happy in their business and

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personal triumphs. And perhaps we know of some people like Jim who are really very sad despite their goodness. They wish they had meaningful work, a loving family, friends, and shelter; but they don’t, and their virtue is insufficient to produce happiness. Some good people are unhappy, and some bad people seem to be happy. Hence, the Socratic answer on the health–sickness analogy may not be correct.

Plato’s second answer is a religious response: God will reward or punish people on the basis of their virtue or vice. The promise is of eternal bliss for the virtuous and hard times for the vicious. God sees all and rewards with abso- lute justice according to individual moral merit. Accordingly, despite what may be their differing fates here on earth, Jim is infinitely better off than Jack. If reli- gious ethics of this sort is true, it is in our self-interest to be moral. The good is really good for us. The religious person has good reason to choose the life of the destitute saint.

We will take up the relationship of religion to morality in a later chapter, but we can say this much about the problem: Unfortunately, we do not know for certain whether there is a God or life after death. Many sincere people doubt or disbelieve religious doctrines, and it is not easy to prove them wrong. Even the devout have doubts and probably cannot be sure of the truth of the doctrine of life after death and the existence of God. In any case, millions of people are not religious, and the question of the relationship between self-interest and morality is a pressing one. Can a moral philosopher give a nonreligious answer as to why they should choose to be moral all of the time?

MORALITY , SELF – INTEREST , AND GAME THEORY

Attempting to prove that we should always be moral is an uphill battle because, as we have seen, countless situations may arise in which it’s in our best interest to break the rules of morality as long as we do not get caught. Social contract the- orists have recently attempted to resolve the conflict between morality and self- interest by drawing from a field of study called game theory. The idea behind game theory is to present situations in which players make decisions that will bring each of them the greatest benefit; these games then provide easy models for understanding more complex situations of social interaction in the real world. A simple game like Monopoly, for example, models the real dog- eat-dog world of business in which you need to kill the competition before the competition kills you. At the same time, Monopoly shows the devastating results on society when a single person succeeds in owning everything. The most com- mon game theory scenario in philosophy is the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and this is frequently used to illuminate the tension between morality and self-interest.

Game 1: The Prisoner’s Dilemma

The Prisoner’s Dilemma scenario is this. The secret police in another country have arrested two of our spies, Sam and Sue. Prior to being caught, Sam and

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Sue have agreed to keep silent during interrogation if they are ever arrested. Now that they are in the hands of the enemy, they both know that if they adhere to their agreement to keep silent the police will be able to hold them for only four months; but if they violate their agreement and both confess that they are spies, they will each get six years in prison. However, if one adheres and the other violates, the one who adheres will get nine years, and the one who confesses will be let go immediately. We might represent their plight with the following matrix. The figures on the left represent the amount of time Sam will spend in prison under the various alternatives, and the figures on the right represent the amount of time that Sue will spend in prison under those alternatives.

Initially, Sam reasons in this manner: Either Sue will adhere to the agree- ment or she will violate it. If Sue adheres, then Sam should violate because it’s better for him to spend zero time in prison than four months. On the other hand, if Sue violates, then Sam should violate because it’s better for him to spend six years in prison than nine years. Therefore, no matter what Sue does, it’s in Sam’s best interest to violate their agreement. However, Sue reasons exactly the same way about Sam and will conclude that it is in her best interest to violate the agreement. Here’s the catch: If both reason in this way, they will obtain the second-worst position—six years each, which we know to be pretty awful. If they could only stick to their original agreement and stay silent, they could each do better—getting only four months. But how can they confidently do that without magically reading each other’s minds to see the other’s true intentions? They can’t and thus each will be forced to look out for his or her own best interest and violate their original agreement.

In a nutshell, here’s the lesson that the Prisoner’s Dilemma teaches us about violating the rules of morality. It is better for me to secretly violate society’s rules, regardless of what other people do. It would be nice if the Prisoner’s Dilemma told us that adhering to morality was the best thing for me, but unfor- tunately it shows the opposite. What do we do now? Remember that the point of games like the Prisoner’s Dilemma is to provide an easy model for under- standing complex social situations, such as how I might benefit by adhering to the rules of morality. The Prisoner’s Dilemma, though, might not be a very good model for this. In particular, it inaccurately depicts moral choices as a one-shot event: Sam and Sue are in a single situation in which they must make a single choice about whether to adhere to or violate their initial agreement to stay silent. But morality is not a single-issue decision. On a daily basis, we decide whether or not to violate society’s moral rules when we might benefit from deception. Should I cheat on my taxes? Should I rack up charges on a bogus

Sue

Adheres Violates

Sam Adheres 4 months, 4 months 0 time, 9 years

Violates 9 years, 0 time 6 years, 6 years

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credit card? Should I defraud a trusting buyer on eBay? Morality is more like a game in which each player takes several turns, so we need to consider a different game model.

Game 2: Cooperate or Cheat

Consider this alternative game theory scenario called Cooperate or Cheat.3 In it there are two players and a banker who pays out money or fines to the players. Each player has two cards, labeled “Cooperate” and “Cheat.” Each move consists of both players simultaneously laying down one of their cards. Suppose you and I are playing against one another. There are four possible outcomes:

Outcome 1. We both play Cooperate. The banker pays each of us $300. We are rewarded nicely.

Outcome 2. We both play Cheat. The banker fines each of us $10. We are punished for mutual defection.

Outcome 3. You play Cooperate and I play Cheat. The banker pays me $500 (Temptation money) and you are fined $100 (a Sucker fine).

Outcome 4. I play Cooperate and you play Cheat. The banker fines me $100 and pays you $500. This is the reverse of Outcome 3.

The game continues until the banker calls it quits. Theoretically, I could win a lot of money by always cheating. After 20 moves, I could hold the sum of $10,000—that is, if you are sucker enough to continue to play Cooperate, in which case you will be short $2,000. If you are rational, you will not do that. If we both continually cheat, we’ll each end up minus $200 after 20 rounds.

Suppose we act on the principle “Always cooperate if the other fellow does and cheat only if he cheats first.” If we both adhere to this principle, we’ll each end up with $6,000 after our 20 rounds—not a bad reward! And, we have the prospects of winning more if we continue to act rationally.

We may conclude that rational self-interest over the long run would demand that you and I cooperate. While I might gain greater rewards by cheat- ing, it comes at a high risk of winning much less. As contemporary social con- tractarian David Gauthier puts it, “Morality is a system of principles such that it is advantageous for everyone if everyone accepts and acts on it, yet acting on the system of principles requires that some persons perform disadvantageous acts.”4

The game of Cooperate or Cheat illustrates that morality is the price that we each have to pay to keep the minimal good that we have in a civilized society. We have to bear some disadvantage in loss of freedom (analogous to paying membership dues in an important organization) so that we can have both pro- tection from the onslaughts of chaos and promotion of the good life. Because an orderly society is no small benefit, even a selfish person who is rational should allow his or her freedom to be limited.

The answer, then, to the question “Why should I be moral?” is that I allow some disadvantage for myself so that I may reap an overall, long-run advantage.

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THE MOTIVE TO ALWAYS BE MORAL

The game of Cooperate or Cheat informs us that even the amoralist must gen- erally adhere to the moral rule because it will give him or her some long-term advantage. There remains, however, a serious problem: The clever person will still break a moral rule whenever he or she can do so without getting detected and unduly undermining the whole system. This clever amoralist takes into account his overall impact on the social system and cheats whenever a careful cost–benefit analysis warrants it. Reaping the rewards of his clever deceit, he may even encourage moral education so that more people will be more dedi- cated to the moral rule, which in turn will allow him to cheat with greater confidence.

The Paradox of Morality and Advantage

Gauthier describes this problem of the clever amoralist through what he calls the paradox of morality and advantage. He writes,

If it is morally right to do an act, then it must be reasonable to do it. If it is reasonable to do the act, then it must be in my interest to do it. But some-times the requirements of morality are incompatible with the requirements of self-interest. Hence, we have a seeming contradiction: It both must be reasonable and need not be reasonable to meet our moral duties.5

Laid out more formally, the argument is this:

(1) If an act is morally right, then it must be reasonable to do it. (2) If it is reasonable to do the act, then it must be in my interest to do it. (3) But sometimes the requirements of morality are incompatible with the

requirements of self-interest. (4) Hence, a morally right act must be reasonable and need not be reasonable,

which is a contradiction.

The problematic premise seems to be the second one claiming that our rea- sons for acting have to appeal to self-interest. For simplicity, let’s call this the principle of rational self-interest.

Might we not doubt this principle of rational self-interest? Could we not have good reasons for doing something that goes against our interest? Suppose Lisa sees a small boy about to get run over by a car and, intending to save the child, hurls herself at the youngster, fully aware of the danger to herself. Lisa’s interest is in no way tied up with the life of that child, but she still tries to save his life at great risk to her own. Isn’t this a case of having a reason to go against one’s self-interest?

It seems to be such a reason. The principle of rational self-interest seems unduly based on the position that people always act to satisfy their perceived best interest— a view called psychological egoism, which we will critically examine in a later chapter. Sometimes, we have reasons to do things that go against our perceived

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self-interest. We find this, for example, when a poor person gives away money to help another poor person; so too with the student who refrains from cheating when she knows that she could easily escape detection. Being faithful, honest, generous, and kind often requires us to act against our own interest.

But you may object to this reasoning by saying, “It is perhaps against our immediate or short-term interest to be faithful, honest, generous, or kind; but in the long run, it really is likely to be in our best interest because the moral and altruistic life promises benefits and satisfactions that are not available to the immoral and stingy.”

There seems to be merit in this response. The basis of it seems to be a plausible view of moral psychology that stipulates that character formation is not like a bath- room faucet that you can turn on and off at will. To have the benefits of the moral life—friendship, mutual love, inner peace, moral pride or satisfaction, and freedom from moral guilt—one has to have a certain kind of reliable character. All in all, these benefits are very much worth having. Indeed, life without them may not be worth living. Thus, we can assert that for every person (insofar as he or she is ratio- nal) the deeply moral life is the best sort of life that he or she can live. Hence, it follows that it is reasonable to develop such a deeply moral character—or to con- tinue to develop it because our upbringing partly forms it for most of us.

Those raised in a normal social context will feel deep distress at the thought of harming others or doing what is immoral and feel deep satisfaction in being moral. For such people, the combination of internal and external punishments may well bring prudence and morality close together. This situation may not apply, however, to people not brought up in a moral context. Should this dis- may us? No. As Gregory Kavka says, we should not perceive “an immoralist’s gloating that it does not pay him to be moral … as a victory over us. It is more like the pathetic boast of a deaf person that he saves money because it does not pay him to buy opera records.”6 The immoralist is a Scrooge who takes pride in not having to buy Christmas presents because he has no friends.

The Modified Principle of Rational Self-Interest

We want to say, then, that the choice of the moral point of view is not an arbi- trary choice but a rational one. Some kinds of lives are better than others: A human life without the benefits of morality is not an ideal or fulfilled life; it lacks too much that makes for human flourishing. The occasional acts through which we sacrifice our self-interest within the general flow of a satisfied life are unavoidable risks that reasonable people will take. Although you can lose by bet- ting on morality, you are almost certain to lose if you bet against it.

Therefore, the principle of rational self-interest must be restated in a modi- fied form:

Modified principle of rational self-interest. If it is reasonable to choose a life plan L, which includes the possibility of doing act A, then it must be in my interest (or at least not against it) to choose L, even though A itself may not be in my self-interest.

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Now there is no longer anything paradoxical in doing something not in one’s interest because, although the individual moral act may occasionally conflict with one’s self-interest, the entire life plan in which the act is embedded and from which it flows is not against the individual’s self-interest. For instance, although you might be able to cheat a company or a country out of some money that would leave you materially better off, it would be contrary to the form of life to which you have com- mitted yourself and that has generally been rewarding.

Furthermore, character is important and habits force us into predictable behavior. Once we obtain the kind of character necessary for the moral life— once we become virtuous—we will not be able to turn morality on and off like a faucet. When we yield to temptation, we will experience alienation in going against this well-formed character. The guilt will torment us, greatly diminishing any ill-gotten gains.

The modified principle of rational self-interest answers several moral ques- tions raised throughout this chapter: Should I act immorally if I wear the ring of Gyges? Should I break the social contract if I can get away with it? The answer in both cases is no. First, it is sometimes reasonable to act morally even when those actions do not immediately involve our self-interest. Second, and more important, a life without spontaneous and deliberate moral kindness may not be worth living. This helps explain why Carl and his employees at the car dealership should behave morally, even if it means risking fewer sales with less profit. If they adopted a moral form of life that is not overburdened with a desire for private financial gain, they may feel more rewarded in their business lives by not cheating their customers.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that morality will produce success and hap- piness. Jim—the moral yet unsuccessful brother discussed earlier in this chapter— is not happy. In a sense, morality is a rational gamble. It doesn’t guarantee success or happiness. Life is tragic. The good fail and the bad—the Jacks of life—seem to prosper. Yet the moral person is prepared for this eventuality. John Rawls sums up the vulnerability of the moral life this way:

A just person is not prepared to do certain things, and so in the face of evil circumstances he may decide to chance death rather than to act unjustly. Yet although it is true enough that for the sake of justice a manmay lose his life where another would live to a later day, the just man does what all things considered he most wants; in this sense he is not defeated by ill for- tune, the possibility of which he foresaw. The question is on a par with the hazards of love; indeed, it is simply a special case. Those who love one another, or who acquire strong attachments to persons and to forms of life, at the same time become liable to ruin: their love makes them hostages to misfortune and the injustice of others. Friends and lovers take great chances to help each other; and members of families willingly do the same…. Once we love we are vulnerable.7

We can, however, take steps to lessen the vulnerability by working together for a more moral society, by bringing up our children to have keener moral sen- sitivities and good habits so that there are fewer Jacks around. We can establish a

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more just society so that people are less tempted to cheat and more inclined to cooperate, once they see that we are all working together for a happier world, a mutual back-scratching world, if you like. In general, the more just the political order, the more likely it will be that the good will prosper, and the more likely that self-interest and morality will converge.

CONCLUS ION

In this chapter, we have examined social contract theory’s explanation of moral motivation as expressed in two questions: “Why does society need moral rules?” and “Why should I be moral?” Hobbes argues that because humans always act out of perceived self-interest, people are naturally driven into conflict with everyone—the state of nature. The solution is for us to create a social contract: By giving up some of our liberty and adopting moral rules, we gain peace. Thus, the answer to the first question (“Why does society need moral rules?”) is that morality is a much-needed mechanism of social control.

Social contract theory’s answer to the second question (“Why should I be moral?”) is more complicated as the game Cooperate or Cheat shows. Ulti- mately, I should be moral because, by occasionally allowing some disadvantage for myself, I may obtain an overall, long-term advantage. Even when it seems as though I can break moral rules without getting caught, I still need to consistently follow them because, although an individual moral act may sometimes be at odds with my self-interest, the complete moral form of life in which the act is rooted is not against my self-interest.

NOTES

1. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1642), selections included in Ethical Theory, ed. Louis Pojman (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011). All quotations by Hobbes in this section are from this Leviathan.

2. William Golding, Lord of the Flies (New York: Putnam, 1954). All quoted material in this section is from this work.

3. Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984); Robert Axelrod and William Hamilton, “The Evolution of Cooperation,” Science 211 (1981): 1390–1396. The game of Cooperate or Cheat is sometimes called the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma.

4. David Gauthier, “Morality and Advantage,” Philosophical Review 76 (1967): pp. 460–475.

5. Ibid.

6. Gregory Kavka, “Reconciliation Project,” in Morality, Reason and Truth, ed. D. Copp and D. Zimmerman (Totowa, NJ: Rowman Allenheld, 1984).

7. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 573.

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FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Consider the following situation proposed by John Hospers in Human Con- duct (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1961), p. 174: “Suppose you tell a blind news vendor that it’s a five-dollar bill you are handing him, and he gives you four dollars and some coins in change, whereas actually you handed him only a one-dollar bill. Almost everyone would agree that such an act is wrong. But some people who agree may still ask, ‘Tell me why I shouldn’t do it just the same.’ ” What would you say to such people?

2. Explain the Hobbesian account of the state of nature and discuss whether you agree with it.

3. Hospers believes that the question “Why should I be moral?” can only be answered by the response “Because it’s right.” Self-interested answers just won’t do because they come down to asking for self-interested reasons for going against my self-interest, which is a self-contradiction. Is Hospers cor- rect about this, or is there something more we can say about being moral?

4. Many students over the years have cheated their way into medical school. Would you want to be a patient of one of these doctors? What does this tell you about the reasons to be moral?

5. At the Web site serendip.brynmawr.edu/playground/pd.html, there is an online version of the game Cooperate or Cheat. Play the game for a few minutes, trying different strategies, and discuss whether your experience confirms that in the long run cooperating is better for you than cheating.

6. Whether you believe that there are always self-interested reasons for being moral will largely depend on whether and to what degree you believe that some forms of life are better than others. Is there an objective standard by which we can judge the quality of one form of life over another?

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6

Egoism, Self-Interest, and

Altruism

O ne of the most notorious examples of selfishness in the business world isthat of Nestlé’s infant formula. During the 1970s and 1980s, Nestlé launched a marketing strategy in developing countries that lured countless poor mothers into infant formula dependency. Wearing uniforms that resembled those of legitimate nurses, Nestlé’s sales force infiltrated hospitals, praised the health benefits of their infant formula, and left mothers with free samples that would last a few weeks—just long enough to diminish the mothers’ abilities to produce breast milk. Left with no choice, mothers purchased the formula. However, proper use of it required up to 70 percent of a family’s income, and unable to pay, mothers diluted the formula, often with contaminated local water. The result was the death of millions of infants from disease and malnutrition. After a decade-long worldwide boycott against Nestlé, in 1984 the company changed its marketing practices. However, even today some activist groups charge that infant formula companies, including Nestlé, are still marketing to poor mothers, result- ing in 4,000 babies dying each day.1

Even the worst corporations do not intentionally set out to kill people. Rather, they are continually driven by the need to make a profit, which overrides all other considerations. If people are harmed or die in the course of doing business, that is not an issue for them unless it seriously harms sales through fines, bad publicity, or boy- cotts. One lesson that we might learn from the Nestlé story is that corporations are chronically selfish: Every decision is made in a way that ultimately serves the best interest of the company and only that company. Even when corporations donate to charities, it’s invariably done as a public relations effort to improve public image and in turn improve sales. Considering that corporations are composed of nothing but

77

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human beings, this raises serious questions about whether selfishness is the driving force behind all human conduct—in our private as well as business lives.

What is the place of self-regard, self-interest, or self-love in the moral life? Is everything that we do really done out of the motive of self-interest so that morality is necessarily egoistic? Is some form of egoism the best moral theory? Or is egoism really diametrically opposed to true morality? Is selflessness possible, and if so, is it rational? These are the questions that we discuss in this chapter. There are many different kinds of egoism, but the two main types that interest moral philosophers are psychological egoism and ethical egoism.

Psychological egoism is the position that we always do that act that we perceive to be in our own best self-interest. That is, we have no choice but to be selfish. We cannot be motivated by anything other than what we believe will promote our interests. I always try to promote my self-interest, and you always try to promote your self-interest.

Ethical egoism, by contrast, holds that everyone ought always to do those acts that will best serve his or her own best self-interest. Whereas psychological ego- ism is a theory about howwe do behave as human beings, ethical egoism is a theory about how we ought to behave. That is, our moral obligation is to seek one’s own self-interest, and the rightness or wrongness of our conduct depends on us fulfilling our self-interest. Let’s begin our investigation with psychological egoism.

PSYCHOLOGICAL EGOISM

Again, psychological egoism is the theory that we always do that act that we perceive to be in our own best self-interest. This view claims to be a description of human nature; that is, it maintains that all people are in fact psychologically designed to act only in those ways that advance their perceived individual self- interest. It makes no difference what action I perform: donating to charity, res- cuing someone from drowning, or volunteering for a disaster-relief organization. At bottom, all my actions are selfishly motivated. Perhaps I do these seemingly selfless actions to improve my reputation or just to make me feel good. The bot- tom line, though, is that I do them all for me. Because psychological egoism pur- ports to be a factual theory of human nature, we may rightfully ask what proof there is for that view. One such defense is the argument from self-satisfaction.

The Argument from Self-Satisfaction

Stated most simply, the argument from self-satisfaction is this:

S. Everyone is an egoist because everyone always tries to do what will bring him or her satisfaction.

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This argument is most famously given by Abraham Lincoln in the following anecdote:

Mr. Lincoln once remarked to a fellow-passenger on an old-time mud- coach that all men were prompted by selfishness in doing good. His fellow-passenger was antagonizing this position when they were passing over a corduroy bridge that spanned a slough. As they crossed this bridge they espied an old razorbacked sow on the bank making a terrible noise because her pigs had got into the slough and were in danger of drowning.

As the old coach began to climb the hill, Mr. Lincoln called out, “Driver, can’t you stop just a moment?” Then Mr. Lincoln jumped out, ran back and lifted the little pigs out of the mud and water and placed them on the bank. When he returned, his companion remarked: “Now Abe, where does selfishness come in on this little episode?” “Why, bless your soul, Ed, that was the very essence of selfishness. I should have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worry- ing over those pigs. I did it to get peace of mind, don’t you see?”2

Is S true? Well, at first sight it seems ambiguous. On the one hand, it might mean this:

S1. For any act A, everyone does A in order to obtain satisfaction.

Satisfaction is the goal. From this interpretation, it may be inferred that we all always act in such a way as to maximize our own self-interest—self-interest being interpreted in terms of satisfaction of wants. Enlarged, S1 reads as follows:

We all want to be happy—to find satisfaction in life—and everything that we do we consciously do toward that end.

Abe Lincoln claimed to help the piglets out of the slough to relieve his con- science, sheerly out of selfish motivation.

Consider a variation on the Lincoln story: The situation is the same, only it is Ed who calls to the driver to halt and who spontaneously jumps out to save the piglets. He returns from the ordeal, pleased. Lincoln now greets him with these words:

“Ed, you know that what you did was the very essence of selfishness. You couldn’t have lived with yourself had you not tried to help those piglets.”

But Ed replies,

“Abe, I wasn’t aware of seeking my own happiness in trying to help those piglets. I did it because I believe that suffering should be alleviated. Of course, I feel satisfaction for having succeeded, but satisfaction is an automatic accompaniment of any successful action. Even if I had failed to help them, I would have felt a measure of satisfaction in that I succeeded in trying to help them.”

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Lincoln seems wrong and Ed seems right in his assessment of the relation of motivation to success. We do not always consciously seek our own satisfaction or happiness when we act. In fact, some people seem to seek their own unhap- piness, as masochists and self-destructive people do, and we all sometimes seem to act spontaneously without consciously considering our happiness. Ed’s posi- tion, then, is something like this:

S2. We all do the act that we most want to do, and as a consequence, we are satisfied by the success of carrying out the act.

S2 now moves beyond psychological egoism since that act that “we most want to do” might possibly be a selfless one, in this case helping the piglets. But S2 does not seem quite right either because it is doubtful whether we always do what we most want to do. When I am on a diet, I most want to refrain from eating delicious chocolate cakes and rich ice cream, but I sometimes find myself yielding to the temptation. Alcoholics and addicts have even more poignant experiences of doing what they do not want to do. Such experiences of weak- ness of will count heavily against S2. Let’s therefore attempt one more interpre- tation of S:

S3. We always try to do what we most want to do and, as a consequence of success in carrying out the act, experience satisfaction.

S3 takes weakness of will into account and so seems closer to the truth. It also seems better for the following reason: We usually are not conscious of any concern for satisfaction when we seek some goal, but satisfaction seems to follow naturally on accomplishing any task.When I reach out to grab a child who is about to be hit by a car, pulling her back from danger, I feel satisfaction at my success, but I didn’t save her to feel satisfied. To conclude that, because I feel satisfaction after saving her, I must have had satisfaction as my purpose is to confuse a consequence of an act with a purpose. This is as fallacious as reasoning that because a car constantly con- sumes gasoline during driving the purpose of such driving is to consume gasoline. In short, as we push for greater clarity in the psychological egoist’s position, the initial argument from self-satisfaction disappears.

The Paradox of Hedonism

Another problem with the argument from self-satisfaction centers on what is called the paradox of hedonism. Suppose a super-psychologist who could reli- ably predict outcomes told you that two courses of action were open to you: (1) You would perform a perfect robbery, kill the bank president and the only person who knew your whereabouts—namely, your best friend or mother—and flee to Argentina to live a happy life; or (2) you would refrain from crime and live a simple but decent middle-class life as a teacher. Suppose further that he convinced you that option (1) would yield 1,000 units of happiness or satisfac- tion (call these units “hedons”), whereas option (2) would yield only 500 hedons. Which would you choose? If you would choose (2), then this is evi- dence that psychological egoism is false.

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This seems to show that we act out of our overall value schemas and find satisfaction in achieving our goals, but that satisfaction is not the only goal. This is what John Stuart Mill meant when he said, “Better Socrates dissatisfied, than the pig satisfied.” Likewise, “Better a discontented good person than a blissful bad person.” Seeking satisfaction for its own sake and nothing else seems to merit Mill’s undesirable “pig philosophy.” We all want to be happy, but we don’t want happiness at any price or to the exclusion of certain other values.

Moreover, happiness itself seems a peculiar kind of goal. As the paradox of hedonism asserts, the best way to get happiness is to forget it. That is, you’ll have a higher probability of attaining happiness if you aim at accomplishing worthy goals that will indirectly bring about happiness:

I sought the bird of bliss, she flew away. I sought my neighbor’s good, bliss flew my way.

Happiness seems to be an elusive goal as long as we desire it alone and for its own sake. It is in the process of reaching other intrinsically worthy goals that happiness comes into being. Joel Feinberg puts the paradox of hedonism this way:

Imagine a person, Jones, who is, first of all, devoid of intellectual curi- osity. He has no desire to acquire any kind of knowledge for its own sake, and thus is utterly indifferent to questions of science, mathematics, and philosophy. Imagine further that the beauties of nature leave Jones cold: he is unimpressed by the autumn foliage, the snow-capped mountains, and the rolling oceans. Long walks in the country on spring mornings and skiing forays in the winter are to him equally a bore. Moreover, let us suppose that Jones can find no appeal in art. Novels are dull, poetry a pain, paintings nonsense and music just noise. Suppose further that Jones has neither the participant’s nor the spectator’s passion for baseball, football, tennis, or any other sport. Swimming to him is a cruel aquatic form of calisthenics, the sun only a cause of sunburn. Dancing is coeducational idiocy, conversation a waste of time, the other sex an unappealing mystery. Politics is a fraud, religion mere supersti- tion; and the misery of millions of underprivileged human beings is nothing to be concerned with or excited about. Suppose finally that Jones has no talent for any kind of handicraft, industry, or commerce, and that he does not regret that fact.

What then is Jones interested in? He must desire something. To be sure, he does. Jones has an overwhelming passion for, a complete pre- occupation with, his own happiness. The one exclusive desire of his life is to be happy. It takes little imagination at this point to see that Jones’s one desire is bound to be frustrated.3

The paradox of hedonism seems to suggest that psychological egoism has severe problems.

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The Argument from Self-Deception

Suppose the psychological egoist alters his interpretation of S to include subcon- scious motivations. The thesis now states that sometimes we are self-deceived about our motivation, but whenever we overcome self-deception and really look deep into our motivational schemes, we find an essential selfishness.

Is the self-deception argument sound? One problem with it is that it seems to be an unfalsifiable dogma, for what evidence could ever count against it? Suppose you look within your motivational structure and do not find a predominant egoistic motive. What does the egoist say to this? The egoist responds that you just have not looked deep enough. But how, you may wonder, do you know when you have looked deep enough? The egoist answers: When you discover the selfish motive. For example, suppose Lincoln’s friend Ed introspects about his motivational scheme in pulling the piglets out of the slough and fails to find a selfish motive. Abe might then respond, “Ed, I don’t mean that the selfishness is always conscious. Self-deception is very deep in humans, so you just haven’t looked deep enough.”

This contention may show that we can never disprove psychological egoism. But it doesn’t offer comfort to the egoist thesis either. Quite the contrary. If we look as deep as we can and still don’t come up with a selfish motive, then we’re justified in believing that not all action is motivated by agent utility considera- tions. The burden of proof is on the egoist to convince us that we are still self- deceived. The egoist seems to be guilty of committing the fallacy of unwarranted generalization. Just because we are sometimes self-deceived about our motives, she reasons, we must always be deceived. But this doesn’t follow at all.

Suppose humans are predominantly psychological egoists, that we are very often motivated by self-regarding motives. This does not imply that we are entirely egoists, nor does it mean that we are necessarily selfish. Webster’s Dictionary defines selfish as “seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.” But, we may find that our values are such that we incorporate the good of others as part of our happiness. A friend’s or a lover’s happiness is so bound up with the good of the other that the two cannot be separated. So if psychological egoism is interpreted as selfish- ness, it is surely false. If it is simply a statement of how we are motivated, then it is probably still false. Something like it—predominant psychological egoism— may be true, but this does not rule out the possibility of disinterested action.

ETH ICAL EGOISM

Ethical egoism is themoral view that everyone ought always to do those acts that will serve his or her own best self-interest. That is, morally right actions are those that maximize the best interest of oneself, even when it conflicts with the interests of others. It’s important to recognize that the moral theory of ethical egoism does not maintain that every person ought to serve the best interests of me specifically (or the speaker). We could imagine, for example, that a tyrannical king might think that moral actions are those that serve specifically the king’s best interest. The position of

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ethical egoism is more universal than that. It urges everyone to maximize his or her best interests. John, Mary, Bill, and Sue should each act in ways that serve their own interests. We next consider four common arguments in defense of ethical egoism.

The Argument from Strict Psychological Egoism

One argument for ethical egoism follows immediately from the theory of psy- chological egoism, which we examined in the previous section. If I am psycho- logically programmed to act only in my own best interest, then I can never be obligated to perform altruistic (that is, selfless) acts toward others. More formally the argument is this:

(1) We all always seek to maximize our own self-interest (definition of psy- chological egoism).

(2) If one cannot do an act, one has no obligation to do that act (ought implies can).

(3) Altruistic acts involve putting other people’s interests ahead of our own (definition of altruism).

(4) But, altruism contradicts psychological egoism and so is impossible (by pre- mises 1 and 3).

(5) Therefore, altruistic acts are never morally obligatory (by premises 2 and 4).

Premise 1 is the theory of psychological egoism itself. Premise 2 stipulates a basic moral principle that we can never be under an obligation to do what is impossi- ble. If I am obligated to perform some action, at minimum it must first be within my power to perform that action. For example, I’m under no obligation to cure cancer because it is completely beyond my ability to do so. This basic position is encapsulated in the expression “ought implies can.” Premise 3 defines altruistic actions as those that are selfless. Premise 4 states that by definition altruistic actions are in direct opposition to psychological egoism’s claim that all actions aim to maximize one’s self-interest. It follows from this that we can never be morally obligated to perform obligatory acts.

Does this argument succeed? If we accept the criticisms of psychological ego- ism in the previous section, then we must reject premise 1, and the whole argument crumbles. For the sake of argument, though, let’s grant the truth of premise 1 and assume that psychological egoism accurately describes human nature. Does this argument now prove ethical egoism? Not necessarily. The above argu- ment only entitles us to reject the contention that altruistic acts are morally obliga- tory. However, it does not follow from this that we ought to perform egoistic acts. For that matter, the above argument does not show that we are morally obligated to perform any acts whatsoever. As such, the argument fails.

Hobbes’s Argument from Predominant Psychological Egoism

Let’s now consider an alternative argument from psychological egoism that we find in the writings of Thomas Hobbes. His argument goes like this: Suppose we existed outside of any society, without laws or agreed-on morality, in a “state of

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nature.” There are no common ways of life, no means of settling conflicts of interest except violence, no reliable expectations of how other people will behave. Further, people are inherently selfish; they will follow their own inclina- tions and perceived interests, tending to act and react and overreact in fearful, capricious, and violent ways. The result of life in the state of nature is chaotic anarchy where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

According to Hobbes, we are driven to survive at all costs, and we see that it would be better for all of us, individually and collectively, if we adopted certain minimal rules that would override immediate self-interest whenever self-interest was a threat to others. Thus, the notion of a mutually agreed-on moral code arises from a situation of rational self-interest. But, of course, the moral code will not work if only some obey it. To prevent violations, Hobbes proposes a strong central government with a powerful police force and a sure and effective system of punishment. The threat of being caught and punished should function as a deterrence to crime. People must believe that offenses against the law are not in their overall interest.4

The engine that drives Hobbes’s entire theory is psychological egoism: Self- ishness forces us into chaos, and selfishness forces us to solve the problem through mutually agreed-on moral codes. Although Hobbes undoubtedly endorses psycho- logical egoism, some scholars argue that he does so in a more moderate way.5 For Hobbes, human action is predominantly motivated by self-interest. That is, human nature causes us to be heavily biased toward our own self-interest over that of others’ interest. Because we cannot act altruistically without unreasonable effort, it follows that it is morally permissible to act entirely out of self-interest. Further, the approach that Hobbes takes in developing our self-interested moral obligations is rather sophisticated and ultimately leads us to adopt familiar moral principles. Enlightened common sense tells us that we should aim at fulfilling our long-term versus our short-term interests, so we need to refrain from immediate gratification of our senses—from doing those things that would break down the social condi- tions that enable us to reach our goals. We should even, perhaps, generally obey the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” for doing good to others will help ensure that they do good to us.

Does Hobbes’s argument for ethical egoism succeed? On the one hand, it seems to overcome both of the limitations of the above argument from strict psychological egoism. First, by advocating a more moderate version of psychological egoism, he sidesteps at least some of the attacks on psychological egoism that we previously examined. Second, Hobbes does more than just rule out the possibility of morally obligatory acts of altruism: He seeks to establish a concrete moral obligation toward maximizing our long-term individual self-interest. Specifically, for Hobbes, we are morally permitted to perform egoistic acts that lead to our individual survival.

Although Hobbes’s argument for ethical egoism is plausible, it still seems to rest too heavily on psychological egoism. It assumes that we cannot do any better than be egoists, so we should be as strategic about our egoism as possible. But if, as we argued earlier, psychological egoism is false, there is no reason to rule out the possibility of nonegoistic behavior. Maybe we all should just try harder to act altruistically. Because Hobbes is advancing a more moderate view

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of psychological egoism, we need not of necessity become ethical egoists. In short, Hobbes’s theory is plausible but not foolproof.

Smith’s Economic Argument

Eighteenth-century economist Adam Smith defended an egoistic approach toward morality based on the economic benefits that this would bring to society. According to Smith, individual self-interest in a competitive marketplace pro- duces a state of optimal goodness for society at large. Competition, he argues, causes each individual to produce a better product and sell it at a lower price than competitors. For example, if I am a car manufacturer and hope to survive against the competition, I will need to find ways of making my car better and selling it at a cheaper price in an effort to get more customers. I gain but so too does the customer. Thus, my self-interest leads to the best overall situation for society. Smith picturesquely describes this benefit as the result of an “invisible hand,” which almost magically directs the economy when we pursue our self- interest.

Does this argument succeed? Essentially, Smith’s economic argument is not an argument for ethical egoism. It is really an argument for utilitarianism, which makes use of self-interest to attain the good of all. The goal of this theory is social benefit, but it places its faith in an invisible hand inherent in the free- enterprise system that guides enlightened self-interest to reach that goal. We might say that it is a two-tier system: On the highest level, it is utilitarian, but on a lower level of day-to-day action, it is practical egoism.

Tier 2 General goal: social utility

Tier 1 Individual motivation: egoistic

The economic argument as a two-tier system suggests that we should not worry about the social good but only about our own good, and in that way we will attain the highest social good possible.

There may be some truth in such a two-tier system. But, first, it is unclear whether you can transpose the methods of economics (which are debatable) into the realm of personal relations, which may have a logic that differs from that of economic relations. The best way to maximize utility in an ethical sense may be to give one’s life for others rather than kill another person, as an egoist might maintain. Second, it is not clear that classical laissez-faire capitalism works. Since the Depression of 1929, most economists have altered their faith in pure capitalism, and most Western nations have supplemented capitalism with some governmental intervention. Likewise, although self-interest often leads to greater social utility, it may get out of hand and need to be supplemented by a concern for others. Classical capitalism has been altered to allow governmental interven- tion—resulting in a welfare system for the worst-off people, public education, Social Security, and Medicare. Similarly, an adequate moral system may need to draw attention to the needs of others and direct us to meeting those needs even when we do not consider it to be in our immediate self-interest.

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Rand’s Argument for the Virtue of Selfishness

The contemporary writer whose name is most associated with ethical egoism is Ayn Rand. In her book The Virtue of Selfishness, she argues that selfishness is a virtue and altruism a vice, a totally destructive idea that leads to the undermining of individual worth. Rand defines altruism as the view that

Any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil. Thus, the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value—and so long as the beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes.6

As such, altruism is suicidal:

If a man accepts the ethics of altruism, his first concern is not how to live his life, but how to sacrifice it…. Altruism erodes men’s capacity to grasp the value of an individual life; it reveals a mind from which the reality of a human being has been wiped out…. Altruism holds death as its ultimate goal and standard of value—and it is logical that renuncia- tion, resignation, self-denial, and every other form of suffering, includ- ing self-destruction, are the virtue of its advocates.

But, a person ought to profit from his own action. As Rand says, “Man’s proper values and interests, that concern with his own interests, is the essence of a moral existence, and that man must be the beneficiary of his own moral actions.” We all really want to be the beneficiary, but society has deceived us into thinking egoism is evil and altruism good, that collectivist mediocrity is virtuous and bold creativity is a vice.

We have an inalienable right to seek our own happiness and fulfillment, Rand argues, regardless of its effects on others. Altruism would deny us this right, so it is the “creed of corruption.” Since finding our ego-centered happiness is the highest goal and good in life, altruism, which calls on us to sacrifice our happiness for the good of others, is contrary to our highest good. Her argument goes something like this:

(1) The perfection of one’s abilities in a state of happiness is the highest goal for humans. We have a moral duty to attempt to reach this goal.

(2) The ethics of altruism prescribes that we sacrifice our interests and lives for the good of others.

(3) Therefore, the ethics of altruism is incompatible with the goal of happiness. (4) Ethical egoism prescribes that we seek our own happiness exclusively, and as

such it is consistent with the happiness goal. (5) Therefore, ethical egoism is the correct moral theory.

Rand seems to hold that every individual has a duty to seek his or her own good first, regardless of how it affects others. She seems to base this duty on the fact that the actions of every living organism are “directed to a single goal: the main- tenance of the organism’s life.” From this, she infers that the highest value is the organism’s self-preservation. Ultimately, each of us should take care of Number

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One, the “I-god,” letting the devil take care of anyone not strong enough to look after himself.

What should we think about Rand’s argument for the virtue of selfishness? In a nutshell, it appears to be flawed by the fallacy of a false dilemma. It simplis- tically assumes that absolute altruism and absolute egoism are the only alterna- tives. But, this is an extreme view of the matter. There are plenty of options between these two positions. Even a predominant egoist would admit that (anal- ogous to the paradox of hedonism) sometimes the best way to reach self- fulfillment is for us to forget about ourselves and strive to live for goals, causes, or other persons. Even if altruism is not required as a duty, it may be permissible in many cases. Furthermore, self-interest may not be incompatible with other- regarding motivation. Self-interest and self-love are morally good things but not at the expense of other people’s legitimate interests. When there is a moral conflict of interest, a fair process of adjudication needs to take place.

Another problem with this argument is that, in her writings, Rand slides back and forth between advocating selfishness and self-interest. These are, how- ever, different concepts. Self-interest means we are concerned to promote our own good, although not necessarily at any cost. I want to succeed, but I recog- nize that sometimes I will justly fail to do so. I accept the just outcome even though it is frustrating. Selfishness entails that I sacrifice the good of others for my own good, even when it is unjust to do so. Self-interest is a legitimate part of our nature whereas selfishness is an aberration, a failure to accept the moral point of view.

Thus, Rand’s thesis that ethics requires “that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action” is not supported by good argument, and it is further contradicted by our common moral experience.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST ETH ICAL EGOISM

When examining a theory like ethical egoism, the first step is to evaluate argu- ments supporting it; we’ve just done this in the previous section and seen that none of the arguments are compelling—although Hobbes’s argument may be plausible. The second step is to consider arguments that attempt to refute the theory. Accordingly, we look at five arguments against ethical egoism.

The Inconsistent Outcomes Argument

Brian Medlin argues that ethical egoism cannot be true because it fails to meet a necessary condition of morality—namely, being a guide to action. He claims that it would be like advising people to do inconsistent things based on incompatible desires.7 His argument goes like this:

(1) Moral principles must be universal and categorical. (2) I must universalize my egoist desire to come out on top over Tom, Dick,

and Harry.

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(3) But, I must also prescribe Tom’s egoist desire to come out on top over Dick, Harry, and me (and so on).

(4) Therefore, I have prescribed incompatible outcomes and have not provided a way of adjudicating conflicts of desire. In effect, I have said nothing.

The proper response to this is that of Jesse Kalin, who argues that we can sepa- rate our beliefs about ethical situations from our desires.8 He likens the situation to a competitive sports event in which you believe that your opponent has a right to try to win as much as you, but you desire that you, not he, will in fact win. An even better example is that of the chess game in which you recognize that your opponent ought to move her bishop to prepare for checkmate, but you hope she won’t see the move. Belief that A ought to do Y does not commit you to wanting A to do Y. Thus, the argument against ethical egoism from inconsistent outcomes fails.

The Publicity Argument

The publicity argument against ethical egoism states that an egoist cannot pub- licly advertise his egoistic project without harming that very project. On the one hand, for something to be a moral theory, it seems necessary that its moral prin- ciples be publicized. Unless principles are put forth as universal prescriptions that are accessible to the public, they cannot serve as guides to action or as aids in resolving conflicts of interest. But on the other hand, it is not in the egoist’s self-interest to publicize them. Egoists would rather that the rest of us be altruists. For example, we might ask why Rand wrote books announcing her positions. Was the money that she received from her book by announcing ethical egoism worth the price of letting the cat out of the bag?

Thus, it would be self-defeating for the egoist to argue for her position—and even worse that she should convince others of it. But, it is perfectly possible to have a private morality that does not resolve conflicts of interest. Thus, the egoist should publicly advocate standard principles of traditional morality—so that soci- ety does not break down—while adhering to a private, nonstandard, solely self- regarding morality. So, if you are willing to pay the price, you can accept the solipsistic-directed norms of egoism.

If the egoist is prepared to pay the price, egoism could be a consistent system that has some limitations. Although the egoist can cooperate with others in lim- ited ways and perhaps even have friends—as long as their interests do not conflict with his—he has to be very careful about preserving his isolation. The egoist cannot give advice or argue about his position—not sincerely at least. He must act alone, atomistically or solipsistically in moral isolation, for to announce his adherence to the principle of egoism would be dangerous to his project. He can’t teach his children the true morality or justify himself to others or forgive others. The bottom line for the publicity argument against ethical egoism is that, yes, the egoist can secretly hold to her personal egoistic moral agenda, but she cannot advertise it without doing damage to her self-interest. And this restriction counts against the viability of ethical egoism to at least some extent.

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Friendship and the Paradox of Ethical Egoism

The situation may be even worse than the sophisticated, self-conscious egoist supposes. Could the egoist have friends? If limited friendship is possible, could he or she ever be in love or experience deep friendship? Suppose the egoist dis- covers that in the pursuit of the happiness goal, deep friendship is in her best interest. Can she become a friend? What is necessary to establish deep friendship? A true friend is one who is not always preoccupied about his or her own interest in the relationship but who forgets about herself altogether, at least sometimes, to serve or enhance the other person’s interest. “Love seeks not its own.” It is an altruistic disposition, the very opposite of egoism. And, yet we recognize that it is in our self-interest to have friends and loving relations, without which life lacks the highest joy and meaning. Thus, the paradox of ethical egoism is that to reach the goal of egoism one must give up egoism and become (to some extent) an altruist, the very antithesis of egoism.

We may once again appeal to a level distinction. On the highest, reflective level, I conclude that I want to be happy. But, I also conclude that the best way to find happiness is to have friends and good relations in a community where we all act justly and lovingly. Because having friends and acting justly requires having disposi- tions to act justly and altruistically, I determine that on a lower, or first order, level I must live justly and altruistically rather than egoistically. Thus, at this lower level, the pursuit of genuine friendship counts against ethical egoism.

The Argument from Counterintuitive Consequences

A fourth argument against ethical egoism is that it is an absolute moral system that not only permits egoistic behavior but also demands it. Helping others at one’s own expense is not only not required but also morally wrong. Whenever I do not have good evidence that my helping you will end up to my advantage, I must refrain from helping you. If I can save the whole of Europe and Africa from destruction by pressing a button, then as long as there is nothing for me to gain by it, it is wrong for me to press that button. The Good Samaritan was, by this logic, morally wrong in helping the injured victim and not collecting pay- ment for his troubles. It is certainly hard to see why the egoist should be con- cerned about environmental matters if he or she is profiting from polluting the environment. Suppose, for example, that the egoist gains 40 units of pleasure in producing chemical solvent. This causes pollution that in turn causes others 1,000 units of suffering; the egoist himself, though, experiences only 10 units of suffering. Thus, according to an agent-maximizing calculus, he is morally obli- gated to produce the polluting chemical. But this seems counterintuitive in that it goes against our normal conception of fairness.

The Problem of Future Generations

A final problem with ethical egoism is that there is no obligation to preserve scarce natural resources for future generations. “Why should I do anything for posterity?” the egoist asks. “What has posterity ever done for me?” The egoist

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gains nothing by preserving natural resources for future generations that do not yet exist and thus can give no benefit to the egoist. Garrett Hardin tells the story of how he spent $1 to plant a redwood seedling that would take 2,000 years to reach its full economic value of $14,000. He confesses that, as an “economic man,” he was being stupid in planting it, but he did so anyway. “It is most unlikely that any of my direct descendants will get [the value of the tree]. The most I can hope for is that an anonymous posterity will benefit by my act…. Why bother?” His answer is an admission of the failure of egoistic and economic reasoning—or of his own rationality. He writes, “I am beginning to suspect that rationality—as we now conceive it—may be insufficient to secure the end we desire, namely, taking care of the interests of posterity.”9

Consider also the reasoning of an economist at the London School of Economics:

Suppose that, as a result of using up all the world’s resources, human life did come to an end. So what? What is so desirable about an indefinite continuation of the human species, religious conviction apart? It may well be that nearly everybody who is already here on earth would be reluctant to die, and that everybody has an instinctive fear of death. But one must not confuse this with the notion that, in any meaningful sense, generations who are yet unborn can be said to be better off if they are born than if they are not.10

This seems a consistent egoist answer. Another economist from MIT puts the matter this way:

Geological time [has been] made comprehensible to our finite human minds by the statement that the 4.5 billion years of the earth’s history [are] equivalent to once around the world in a Supersonic jet…. Man got on eight miles before the end, and industrial man got on six feet before the end…. Today we are having a debate about the extent to which man ought to maximize the length of time that he is on the airplane.

According to what the scientists think, the sun is gradually expanding and 12 billion years from now the earth will be swallowed up by the sun. This means that our airplane has time to go round three more times. Do we want man to be on it for all three times around the world? Are we interested in man being on for another eight miles? Are we interested in man being on for another six feet? Or are we only interested in man for a fraction of a millimeter—our lifetimes? That led me to think: Do I care what happens a thousand years from now? … Do I care when man gets off the airplane? I think I basically [have come] to the conclusion that I don’t care whether man is on the air- plane for another eight feet, or if man is on the airplane another three times around the world.11

But most of us do find it intuitively obvious that we have obligations to future people, even if they cannot reciprocate. If this is so, ethical egoism cannot be a

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sufficient ethical theory. It may be part of a larger theory, but it must be supple- mented by other theories.

In conclusion, we see that ethical egoism has a number of serious problems. It cannot consistently publicize itself, nor often argue its case. It tends toward solipsism and the exclusion of many of the deepest human values such as love and deep friendship. It violates the principle of fairness, and, most of all, it entails an absolute prohibition on altruistic behavior, which we intuitively sense as mor- ally required (or at least permissible).

CONCLUS ION

Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, once said that humanity is like a man who, when mounting a horse, always falls off on the opposite side, especially when he tries to overcompensate for his previous exaggerations. So it is with ethical egoism. Trying to compensate for an irrational, guilt-ridden, altruism of the morality of self-effacement, it falls off the horse on the other side, embracing a preoccupation with self-exaltation that robs the self of the deepest joys in life. Only the person who mounts properly, avoiding both extremes, is likely to ride the horse of happiness to its goal.

NOTES

1. See Mike Muller, The Baby Killer (London: War on Want, 1974); Nestlé’s Web site, www.babymilk.nestle.com/History/, and www.babymilkaction.org.

2. The Springfield Monitor, as quoted in the Outlook, Vol. 56, no.18, August 28, 1897, p. 1059.

3. Joel Feinberg, ed. “Psychological Egoism,” in Reason and Responsibility (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1985).

4. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1642), Ch. 13. Selections included in Ethical Theory, ed. Louis Pojman (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011).

5. See Gregory S. Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 64–82.

6. Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (New American Library, 1964), pp. vii, 27–32, 80 ff. All quoted material in this section is from this work.

7. Brian Medlin, “Ultimate Principles and Ethical Egoism,” Australasian Journal of Phi- losophy 35 (1957): pp. 111–118.

8. Jesse Kalin, “In Defense of Egoism,” in Morality and Rational Self-Interest, ed. David Gauthier (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1970).

9. Garrett Hardin, “Who Cares for Posterity,” in The Limits of Altruism, ed. Garrett Hardin (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1977).

10. Quoted in Robert Heilbroner, “What Has Posterity Ever Done for Me?” New York Times Magazine, January 19, 1975.

11. Ibid.

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FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Evaluate whether this statement is true or false: “Everyone is an egoist, for everyone always tries to do what will bring himself or herself satisfaction.”

2. Chapter 1 began with the story of the killing of Kitty Genovese. Review that story, and discuss how an ethical egoist would respond to the plight of Kitty Genovese. Would egoists admit that they have a duty to come to the aid of Genovese?

3. Discuss the four arguments in favor of ethical egoism. Which of these is the most compelling, and why?

4. Discuss the five arguments against ethical egoism. Which of these is the most compelling, and why?

5. Egoists often argue that most moral systems fail to recognize adequately that morality should be in our best interest. In this light, ethical egoism could be seen as an attempt to compensate for the inadequacies of other ethical views that emphasize doing duty for duty’s sake or for the sake of others. Explain whether this argument has merit.

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7

Utilitarianism

S uppose you are on an island with a dying millionaire. With his final words,he begs you for one final favor: “I’ve dedicated my whole life to baseball and for fifty years have gotten endless pleasure rooting for the New York Yankees. Now that I am dying, I want to give all my assets, $5 million, to the Yankees.” Pointing to a box containing money in large bills, he continues: “Would you take this money back to New York and give it to the Yankees’ owner so that he can buy better players?” You agree to carry out his wish, at which point a huge smile of relief and gratitude breaks out on his face as he expires in your arms. After traveling to New York, you see a newspaper adver- tisement placed by your favorite charity, World Hunger Relief Organization (whose integrity you do not doubt), pleading for $5 million to be used to save 100,000 people dying of starvation in Africa. Not only will the $5 million save their lives, but it will also purchase equipment and the kinds of fertilizers neces- sary to build a sustainable economy. You decide to reconsider your promise to the dying Yankee fan, in light of this advertisement.

What is the right thing to do in this case? Consider some traditional moral principles and see if they help us come to a decision. One principle often given to guide action is “Let your conscience be your guide.” I recall this principle with fondness, for it was the one my father taught me at an early age, and it still echoes in my mind. But does it help here? No, since conscience is primarily a function of upbringing. People’s consciences speak to them in different ways according to how they were brought up. Depending on upbringing, some peo- ple feel no qualms about committing violent acts, whereas others feel the tor- ments of conscience over stepping on a gnat. Suppose your conscience tells you to give the money to the Yankees and my conscience tells me to give the

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money to the World Hunger Relief Organization. How can we even discuss the matter? If conscience is the end of it, we’re left mute.

Another principle urged on us is “Do whatever is most loving”; Jesus in particular set forth the principle “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is surely a wonderful value. It is a more wholesome attitude than hate, and we should overcome feelings of hate if only for our own psychological health. But is love enough to guide our actions when there is a conflict of interest? “Love is blind,” it has been said, “but reason, like marriage, is an eye-opener.” Whom should I love in the case of the disbursement of the millionaire’s money—the millionaire or the starving people? It’s not clear how love alone will settle anything. In fact, it is not obvious that we must always do what is most loving. Should we always treat our enemies in loving ways? Or is it morally permissible to feel hate for those who have purposely and unjustly harmed us, our loved ones, or other innocent people? Should the survivors of Nazi concentration camps love Adolph Hitler? Love alone does not solve difficult moral issues.

A third principle often given to guide our moral actions is the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This, too, is a noble rule of thumb, one that works in simple, commonsense situations. But it has problems. First, it cannot be taken literally. Suppose I love to hear loud heavy-metal music. Since I would want you to play it loudly for me, I reason that I should play it loudly for you—even though I know that you hate the stuff. Thus, the rule must be modified: “Do to others as you would have them do to you if you were in their shoes.” However, this still has problems. If I were the assassin of Robert Kennedy, I’d want to be released from the penitentiary; but it is not clear that he should be released. If I put myself in the place of a sex-starved individual, I might want to have sex with the next available person; but it’s not obvious that I (or anyone else) must comply with that wish. Likewise, the Golden Rule doesn’t tell me to whom to give the millionaire’s money.

Conscience, love, and the Golden Rule are all worthy rules of thumb to help us through life. They work for most of us, most of the time, in ordinary moral situations. But, in more complicated cases, especially when there are legit- imate conflicts of interests, they are limited.

A more promising strategy for solving dilemmas is that of following definite moral rules. Suppose you decided to give the millionaire’s money to the Yankees to keep your promise or because to do otherwise would be stealing. The princi- ple you followed would be “Always keep your promise.” Principles are impor- tant in life. All learning involves understanding a set of rules; as R. M. Hare says, “Without principles we could not learn anything whatever from our elders…. Every generation would have to start from scratch and teach itself.”1 If you

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decided to act on the principle of keeping promises, then you adhered to a type of moral theory called deontology. In Chapter 1, we saw that deontological systems maintain that the center of value is the act or kind of act; certain features in the act itself have intrinsic value. For example, a deontologist would see some- thing intrinsically wrong in the very act of lying.

If, on the other hand, you decided to give the money to the World Hunger Relief Organization to save an enormous number of lives and restore economic solvency to the region, you sided with a type of theory called teleological ethics. Sometimes, it is referred to as consequentialist ethics. We also saw in Chapter 1 that the center of value here is the outcome or consequences of the act. For example, a teleologist would judge whether lying was morally right or wrong by the consequences it produced.

We have already examined one type of teleological ethics: ethical egoism, the view that the act that produces the most amount of good for the agent is the right act. Egoism is teleological ethics narrowed to the agent himself or herself. In this chapter, we will consider the dominant version of teleological ethics— utilitarianism. Unlike ethical egoism, utilitarianism is a universal teleological sys- tem. It calls for the maximization of goodness in society—that is, the greatest goodness for the greatest number—and not merely the good of the agent.

CLASS IC UT IL I TAR IANISM

In our normal lives we use utilitarian reasoning all the time; I might give money to charity when seeing that it would do more good for needy people than it would for me. In time of war, I might join the military and risk dying because I see that society’s needs at that time are greater than my own. As a formal ethi- cal theory, the seeds of utilitarianism were sewn by the ancient Greek philoso- pher Epicurus (342–270 BCE), who stated that “pleasure is the goal that nature has ordained for us; it is also the standard by which we judge everything good.” According to this view, rightness and wrongness are determined by plea- sure or pain that something produces. Epicurus’s theory focused largely on the individual’s personal experience of pleasure and pain, and to that extent he advo- cated a version of ethical egoism. Nevertheless, Epicurus inspired a series of eighteenth-century philosophers who emphasized the notion of general happi- ness—that is, the pleasing consequences of actions that impact others and not just the individual. Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) stated that “that action is best, which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers.” David Hume (1711–1776) introduced the term utility to describe the pleasing conse- quences of actions as they impact people.

The classical expressions of utilitarianism, though, appear in the writings of two English philosophers and social reformers Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and

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John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). Their approach to morality was nonreligious and they tried to reform society by rejecting unfounded rules of morality and law.

Jeremy Bentham

There are two main features of utilitarianism, both of which Bentham articu- lated: the consequentialist principle (or its teleological aspect) and the utility principle (or its hedonic aspect). The consequentialist principle states that the right- ness or wrongness of an act is determined by the goodness or badness of the results that follow from it. It is the end, not the means, that counts; the end justifies the means. The utility, or hedonist, principle states that the only thing that is good in itself is some specific type of state (for example, pleasure, happi- ness, welfare). Hedonistic utilitarianism views pleasure as the sole good and pain as the only evil. To quote Bentham, “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as what we shall do.”2 An act is right if it either brings about more pleasure than pain or prevents pain, and an act is wrong if it either brings about more pain than pleasure or prevents pleasure from occurring.

Bentham invented a scheme for measuring pleasure and pain that he called the hedonic calculus. The quantitative score for any pleasure or pain experi- ence is obtained by summing the seven aspects of a pleasurable or painful expe- rience: its intensity, duration, certainty, nearness, fruitfulness, purity, and extent. Adding up the amounts of pleasure and pain for each possible act and then com- paring the scores would enable us to decide which act to perform. With regard to our example of deciding between giving the dying man’s money to the Yankees or to the African famine victims, we would add up the likely pleasures to all involved, for all seven qualities. If we found that giving the money to the famine victims would cause at least 3 million hedons (units of happiness) but that giving the money to the Yankees would cause less than 1,000 hedons, we would have an obligation to give the money to the famine victims.

There is something appealing about Bentham’s utilitarianism. It is simple in that there is only one principle to apply: Maximize pleasure and minimize suffering. It is commonsensical in that we think that morality really is about reducing suffering and promoting benevolence. It is scientific: Simply make quantitative measure- ments and apply the principle impartially, giving no special treatment to ourselves or to anyone else because of race, gender, personal relationship, or religion.

However, Bentham’s philosophy may be too simplistic in one way and too complicated in another. It may be too simplistic in that there are values other than pleasure (as we saw in Chapter 6), and it seems too complicated in its artificial hedonic calculus. The calculus is burdened with too many variables and has pro- blems assigning scores to the variables. For instance, what score do we give a cool drink on a hot day or a warm shower on a cool day? How do we compare a 5-year-old’s delight over a new toy with a 30-year-old’s delight with a new lover? Can we take your second car from you and give it to Beggar Bob, who does not own a car and would enjoy it more than you? And if it is simply the overall benefits

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of pleasure that we are measuring, then if Jack or Jill would be “happier” in the Pleasure Machine or the Happiness Machine or on drugs than in the real world, would we not have an obligation to ensure that these conditions become reality? Because of such considerations, Bentham’s version of utilitarianism was, even in his own day, referred to as the “pig philosophy” because a pig enjoying his life would constitute a higher moral state than a slightly dissatisfied Socrates.

John Stuart Mill

It was to meet these sorts of objections and save utilitarianism from the charge of being a pig philosophy that Bentham’s successor, John Stuart Mill, sought to dis- tinguish happiness from mere sensual pleasure. His version of the theory is often called eudaimonistic utilitarianism (from the Greek eudaimonia, meaning “happiness”). He defines happiness in terms of certain types of higher-order plea- sures or satisfactions such as intellectual, aesthetic, and social enjoyments, as well as in terms of minimal suffering. That is, there are two types of pleasures. The lower, or elementary, include eating, drinking, sexuality, resting, and sensuous titillation. The higher include high culture, scientific knowledge, intellectuality, and creativity. Although the lower pleasures are more intensely gratifying, they also lead to pain when overindulged in. The higher pleasures tend to be more long term, continuous, and gradual.

Mill argued that the higher, or more refined, pleasures are superior to the lower ones: “A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering, and certainly accessible to it at more points, than one of an inferior type,” but still he is qualitatively better off than the person without these higher faculties. “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”3 Humans are the kind of creatures who require more to be truly happy. They want the lower pleasures, but they also want deep friendship, intellectual ability, culture, the ability to create and appreciate art, knowledge, and wisdom.

But one may object, “How do we know that it really is better to have these higher pleasures?” Here, Mill imagines a panel of experts and says that of those who have had a wide experience of pleasures of both kinds almost all give a decided preference to the higher type. Because Mill was an empiricist—one who believed that all knowledge and justified belief was based on experience—he relied on the com- bined consensus of human history. By this view, people who experience both rock music and classical music will, if they appreciate both, prefer Bach and Beethoven to Metallica. That is, we generally move up from appreciating simple things (for exam- ple, nursery rhymes) to more complex and intricate things (for example, poetry that requires great talent) rather than the other way around.

Mill has been criticized for not giving a better reply—for being an elitist and for unduly favoring the intellectual over the sensual. But he has a point. Don’t we generally agree, if we have experienced both the lower and the higher types of pleasure, that even though a full life would include both, a life with only the former is inadequate for human beings? Isn’t it better to be Socrates dissatisfied than the pig satisfied—and better still to be Socrates satisfied?

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The point is not merely that humans wouldn’t be satisfied with what satisfies a pig but that somehow the quality of the higher pleasures is better. But what does it mean to speak of better pleasure? The formula he comes up with is this:

Happiness … [is] not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various plea- sures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing.4

Mill is clearly pushing the boundaries of the concept of “pleasure” by emphasizing higher qualities such as knowledge, intelligence, freedom, friend- ship, love, and health. In fact, one might even say that his litmus test for happi- ness really has little to do with actual pleasure and more to do with a nonhedonic-cultivated state of mind.

ACT – AND RULE -UT IL I TAR IANISM

There are two classical types of utilitarianism: act- and rule-utilitarianism. In applying the principle of utility, act-utilitarians, such as Bentham, say that ideally we ought to apply the principle to all of the alternatives open to us at any given moment. We may define act-utilitarianism in this way:

Act-utilitarianism: An act is right if and only if it results in as much good as any available alternative.

One practical problem with act-utilitarianism is that we cannot do the neces- sary calculations to determine which act is the correct one in each case, for often we must act spontaneously and quickly. So rules of thumb are of practical importance—for example, “In general, don’t lie,” and “Generally, keep your promises.”However, the right act is still that alternative that results in the most utility.

A second problem with act-utilitarianism is that it seems to fly in the face of fundamental intuitions about minimally correct behavior. Consider Richard Brandt’s criticism of act-utilitarianism:

It implies that if you have employed a boy to mow your lawn and he has finished the job and asks for his pay, you should pay him what you promised only if you cannot find a better use for your money. It implies that when you bring home your monthly paycheck you should use it to support your family and yourself only if it cannot be used more effec- tively to supply the needs of others.5

The alternative to act-utilitarianism is a view called rule-utilitarianism— elements of which we find in Mill’s theory. Most generally, the position is this:

Rule-utilitarianism: An act is right if and only if it is required by a rule that is itself a member of a set of rules whose acceptance would lead to greater utility for society than any available alternative.

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Human beings are rule-following creatures. We learn by adhering to the rules of a given subject, whether it is speaking a language, driving a car, dancing, writing an essay, rock climbing, or cooking. We want to have a set of action- guiding rules by which to live. The act-utilitarian rule, to do the act that max- imizes utility, is too tedious for most purposes. Often, we don’t have time to decide whether lying will produce more utility than truth telling, so we need a broad rule prescribing truthfulness that passes the test of rational scrutiny. Rule- utilitarianism asserts that the best chance of maximizing utility is by following the set of rules most likely to give us our desired results. Because morality is a social and public institution, we need to coordinate our actions with others so that we can have reliable expectations about other people’s behavior.

For the most sophisticated versions of rule-utilitarianism, three levels of rules will guide actions. On the lowest level is a set of utility-maximizing rules of thumb, such as “Don’t lie” and “Don’t cause harm,” that should always be fol- lowed unless there is a conflict between them. If these first-order rules conflict, then a second-order set of conflict-resolving rules should be consulted, such as “It’s more important to avoid causing serious harm than to tell the truth.” At the top of the hierarchy is a third-order rule sometimes called the remainder rule, which is the principle of act-utilitarianism: When no other rule applies, simply do what your best judgment deems to be the act that will maximize utility.

An illustration of this is the following: Suppose you promised to meet your teacher at 3 p.m. in his office. On your way there, you come upon an accident victim stranded by the wayside who desperately needs help. The two first-order rules in this situation are “Keep your promises” and “Help those in need when you are not seriously inconvenienced in doing so.” It does not take you long to decide to break the appointment with your teacher because it seems obvious in this case that the rule to help others overrides the rule to keep promises. There is a second-order rule prescribing that the first-order rule of helping people in need when you are not seriously inconvenienced in doing so overrides the rule to keep promises. However, there may be some situation where no obvious rule of thumb applies. Say you have $50 that you don’t really need now. How should you use this money? Put it into your savings account? Give it to your favorite charity? Use it to throw a party? Not only is there no clear first-order rule to guide you, but there is no second-order rule to resolve conflicts between first-order rules. Here and only here, on the third level, the general act-utility principle applies without any other primary rule; that is, do what in your best judgment will do the most good.

Debates between act- and rule-utilitarians continue today. Kai Nielsen, a staunch act-utilitarian, argues that no rules are sacred; differing situations call forth different actions, and potentially any rule could be overridden. He thus criticizes what he calls moral conservatism, which is any normative ethical theory that maintains that there is a privileged moral principle, or cluster of moral prin- ciples, prescribing determinate actions that it would always be wrong not to act in accordance with no matter what the consequences.

Nielsen argues further that we are responsible for the consequences of not only the actions that we perform but also the nonactions that we fail to perform. He calls

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this “negative responsibility.” To illustrate, suppose you are the driver of a trolley car and suddenly discover that your brakes have failed. You are just about to run over five workers on the track ahead of you. However, if you act quickly, you can turn the trolley onto a sidetrack where only one man is working. What should you do? One who makes a strong distinction between allowing versus doing evil would argue that you should do nothing and merely allow the trolley to kill the five work- ers. But one who denies that this is an absolute distinction would prescribe that you do something positive to minimize evil. Negative responsibility means that you are going to be responsible for someone’s death in either case. Doing the right thing, the utilitarian urges, means minimizing the amount of evil. So you should actively cause the one death to save the other five lives.6 Critics of utilitarianism contend either that negative responsibility is not a strict duty or that it can be worked into other systems besides utilitarianism.

The Strengths of Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism has three positive features. The first attraction or strength is that it is a single principle, an absolute system with a potential answer for every situa- tion: Do what will promote the most utility. It’s good to have a simple, action- guiding principle that is applicable to every occasion—even if it may be difficult to apply (life’s not simple).

Its second strength is that utilitarianism seems to get to the substance of morality. It is not merely a formal system that simply sets forth broad guidelines for choosing principles but offers no principles—such as the guideline “Do what- ever you can universalize.” Rather it has a material core: We should promote human (and possibly animal) flourishing and reduce suffering. The first virtue gives us a clear decision procedure in arriving at our answer about what to do. The second virtue appeals to our sense that morality is made for people and that morality is not so much about rules as about helping people and alleviating the suffering in the world.

As such, utilitarianism seems commonsensical. For instance, it gives us clear and reasonable guidance in dealing with the Kitty Genovese case discussed in Chapter 1: We should call the police or do what is necessary to help her, as long as helping her does not create more disutility than leaving her alone. And, in the case of deciding what to do with the dead millionaire’s $2 million, something in us says that it is absurd to keep a promise to a dead person when it means allowing hundreds of thousands of famine victims to die. Far more good can be accomplished by helping the needy than by giving the money to the Yankees.

A third strength of utilitarianism is that it is particularly well suited to address the problem of posterity—namely, why we should preserve scarce natural resources for the betterment of future generations of humans that do not yet exist. Expressed rhetorically, the question is “Why should I care about posterity; what has posterity ever done for me?” In Chapter 6, we saw that the theory of ethical egoism failed to give us an adequate answer to this problem. That is, the egoist gains nothing by preserving natural resources for future generations that do not yet exist and thus can give no benefit to the egoist. However, utilitarians

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have one overriding duty: to maximize general happiness. As long as the quality of life of future people promises to be positive, we have an obligation to con- tinue human existence, to produce human beings, and to take whatever actions are necessary to ensure that their quality of life is not only positive but high.

It does not matter that we cannot identify these future people. We may look upon them as mere abstract placeholders for utility and aim at maximizing utility. Derek Parfit explains this using this utilitarian principle: “It is bad if those who live are worse off than those whomight have lived.”He illustrates his principle this way. Suppose our generation has the choice between two energy policies: the “Safe Energy Policy” and the “Risky Energy Policy.”7 The Risky Policy promises to be safe for us but is likely to create serious problems for a future generation, say, 200 years from now. The Safe Policy won’t be as beneficial to us but promises to be stable and safe for posterity—those living 200 years from now and beyond. We must choose and we are responsible for the choice that we make. If we choose the Risky Policy, we impose harms on our descendants, even if they don’t now exist. In a sense, we are responsible for the people who will live because our policy decisions will generate different causal chains, resulting in different people being born. But more important, we are responsible for their quality of life because we could have caused human lives to have been better off than they are.

What are our obligations to future people? If utilitarians are correct, we have an obligation to leave posterity to as good a world as we can. This would mean radically simplifying our lifestyles so that we use no more resources than are nec- essary, keeping as much top soil intact as possible, protecting endangered species, reducing our carbon dioxide emissions, preserving the wilderness, and minimiz- ing our overall deleterious impact on the environment in general while using technology wisely.

CR IT IC ISM OF UT IL I TAR IANISM

Utilitarianism has been around for several centuries, but so too have been its critics, and we need to address a series of standard objections to utilitarianism before we can give it a “philosophically clean bill of health.”

Problems with Formulating Utilitarianism

The first set of problems occurs in the very formulation of utilitarianism: “The greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Notice that we have two “greatest” things in this formula: “happiness” and “number.” Whenever we have two vari- ables, we invite problems of determining which of the variables to rank first when they seem to conflict. To see this point, consider the following example: I am offering a $1,000 prize to the person who runs the longest distance in the shortest amount of time. Three people participate: Joe runs 5 miles in 31 min- utes, John runs 7 miles in 50 minutes, and Jack runs 1 mile in 6 minutes. Who should get the prize? John has fulfilled one part of the requirement (run the

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longest distance), but Jack has fulfilled the other requirement (run the shortest amount of time).

This is precisely the problem with utilitarianism. On the one hand, we might concern ourselves with spreading happiness around so that the greatest number obtain it (in which case, we should get busy and procreate a larger pop- ulation). On the other hand, we might be concerned that the greatest possible amount of happiness obtains in society (in which case, we might be tempted to allow some people to become far happier than others, as long as their increase offsets the losers’ diminished happiness). So should we worry more about total happiness or about highest average?

Utilitarians also need to be clear about specifically whose happiness we are talking about: all beings that experience pleasure and pain, or all human beings, or all rational beings. One criterion might exclude mentally deficient human beings, and another might include animals. Finally, utilitarians need to indicate how we measure happiness and make interpersonal comparisons between the happiness of different people. We’ve seen Mill’s efforts to address this problem with his notion of higher pleasures; we’ve also seen the additional complications that his solution creates.

None of these problems defeat utilitarianism as a workable theory, but they do place a heavy burden on utilitarians to clarify the objectives of their theory.

The Comparative Consequences Objection

Another crucial problem with utilitarianism is that it seems to require a superhu- man ability to look into the future and survey a mind-boggling array of conse- quences of actions. Of course, we normally do not know the long-term consequences of our actions because life is too complex and the consequences go on into the indefinite future. One action causes one state of affairs, which in turn causes another state of affairs, indefinitely, so that calculation becomes impossible. Recall the nursery rhyme:

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; For want of a shoe, the horse was lost; For want of a horse, the rider was lost; For want of a rider, the battle was lost; For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost; And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Poor, unfortunate blacksmith; what utilitarian guilt he must bear all the rest of his days!

But it is ridiculous to blame the loss of one’s kingdom on the poor, unsuc- cessful blacksmith, and utilitarians are not so foolish as to hold him responsible for the bad situation. Instead, following C. I. Lewis, utilitarians distinguish two kinds of consequences: (1) actual consequences of an act and (2) consequences that could reasonably have been expected to occur.8 Based on these two kinds of consequences, there are two corresponding right actions. An act is absolutely right if it has the best actual consequences (as per consequence 1). An act is

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objectively right if it is reasonable to expect that it will have the best consequences (as per consequence 2).

Only objective rightness, that based on reasonable expectations, is central here. Actual rightness, based on actual consequences, is irrelevant because this can only be determined after an action is performed and we sit back and watch the series of actual consequences unfold. But when an agent is trying to determine in advance how to act, the most that she can do is to use the best information available and do what a reasonable person would expect to produce the best overall results. Suppose, for example, that while Hitler’s grandmother was carry- ing little Adolph up the stairs to her home, she slipped and had to choose between either dropping infant Adolph and allowing him to be fatally injured or breaking her arm. According to the formula just given, it would have been absolutely right for her to let him be killed because history would have turned out better. But, it would not have been within her power to know that. She did what any reasonable person would do—she saved the baby’s life at the risk of injury to herself. She did what was objectively right. The utilitarian theory holds that by generally doing what reason judges to be the best act based on likely consequences, we will, in general, actually promote the best consequences.

The Consistency Objection to Rule-Utilitarianism

An often-debated question about rule-utilitarianism is whether, when pushed to its logical limits, it must either become a deontological system or transform itself into act-utilitarianism. As such, it is an inconsistent theory that offers no truly independent standard for making moral judgments. Briefly, the argument goes like this: Imagine that following the set of general rules of a rule-utilitarian sys- tem yields 100 hedons (positive utility units). We could always find a case where breaking the general rule would result in additional hedons without decreasing the sum of the whole. So, for example, we could imagine a situation in which breaking the general rule “Never lie” to spare someone’s feelings would create more utility (for example, 102 hedons) than keeping the rule would. It would seem that we could always improve on any version of rule-utilitarianism by breaking the set of rules whenever we judge that by doing so we could produce even more utility than by following the set.

To illustrate more fully, consider this example. Suppose a disreputable for- mer convict named Charley has been convicted of a serious crime and sentenced to a severe punishment. You, the presiding judge, have just obtained fresh evi- dence that if brought into court would exonerate Charley of the crime. But you also have evidence, not admissible in court, that Charley is guilty of an equally heinous crime for which he has not been indicted. The evidence suggests that Charley is a dangerous man who should not be on the streets of our city. What should you do? An act-utilitarian would no doubt suppress the new evi- dence in favor of protecting the public from a criminal. A rule-utilitarian has a tougher time making the decision. On the one hand, he has the rule “Do not permit innocent people to suffer for crimes they didn’t commit.” On the other hand, he has the rule “Protect the public from unnecessary harm.” The

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rule-utilitarian may decide the matter by using the remainder principle, which yields the same result as that of the act-utilitarian. This seems, however, to give us a counterintuitive result. Why not just be an act-utilitarian and forgo the mid- dle steps if that is what we are destined to reach anyway?

There may be other ways for the rule-utilitarian to approach this. He or she may opt for a different remainder principle, one that appeals to our deepest intuitions: “Whenever two rules conflict, choose the one that fits your deepest moral intuition.” Thus, the judge may very well decide to reveal the evidence exonerating Charley, holding to the rule not to allow people to suffer for crimes for which there is insufficient evidence to convict them. The rule-utilitarian argues that, in the long run, a rule that protects such legally innocent but morally culpable people will produce more utility than following an act-utilitarian prin- ciple. If we accept the second intuitionist version of the remainder principle, we may be accused of being deontological intuitionists and not utilitarians at all.

How might we respond to this criticism of inconsistency? It may be more accurate to see moral philosophy as complex and multidimensional so that both striving for the goal of utility and the method of consulting our intuitions are part of moral deliberation and action. Thus, even if rule-utilitarianism involves consulting moral intuitions, both of these elements may be intertwined and equally legitimate parts of moral reasoning. What at first appears to be a problem of consistency is really just an indicator of the multilayered nature of morality.

The No-Rest Objection

According to utilitarianism, one should always do that act that promises to pro- mote the most utility. But there is usually an infinite set of possible acts to choose from, and even if I can be excused from considering all of them, I can be fairly sure that there is often a preferable act that I could be doing. For example, when I am about to go to the cinema with a friend, I should ask myself if helping the homeless in my community wouldn’t promote more utility. When I am about to go to sleep, I should ask myself whether I could at that moment be doing something to help save the ozone layer. And, why not simply give all my assets (beyond what is absolutely necessary to keep me alive) to the poor to promote utility? Following utilitarianism, I should get little or no rest, and, certainly, I have no right to enjoy life when by sacrificing I can make others happier. Peter Singer actually advocates an act-utilitarian position similar to this. Accord- ing to Singer, middle-class people have a duty to contribute to poor people (especially in undeveloped countries) more than one-third of their income, and all of us have a duty to contribute every penny above $30,000 we possess until we are only marginally better off than the worst-off people on earth.

The problem with approaches like Singer’s is that this makes morality too demanding, creates a disincentive to work, and fails to account for different levels of obligation. Thus, utilitarianism must be a false doctrine. But rule-utilitarians have a response to this no-rest objection: A rule prescribing rest and entertain- ment is actually the kind of rule that would have a place in a utility-maximizing set of rules. The agent should aim at maximizing his or her own happiness as

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well as other people’s happiness. For the same reason, it is best not to worry much about the needs of those not in our primary circle. Although we should be concerned about the needs of poor people, it actually would promote disutil- ity for the average person to become preoccupied with these concerns. Singer represents a radical act-utilitarian position that fails to give adequate attention to the rules that promote human flourishing, such as the right to own property, educate one’s children, and improve one’s quality of life, all of which probably costs more than $30,000 per year in many parts of North America. However, the utilitarian would remind us, we can surely do a lot more for suffering humanity than we now are doing—especially if we join together and act cooperatively. And we can simplify our lives, cutting back on unnecessary consumption, while improving our overall quality.

The Publicity Objection

It is usually thought that moral principles must be known to all so that all may freely obey the principles. But utilitarians usually hesitate to recommend that everyone act as a utilitarian, especially an act-utilitarian, because it takes a great deal of deliberation to work out the likely consequences of alternative courses of action. It would be better if most people acted simply as deontologists.9 Thus, utilitarianism seems to contradict our requirement of publicity.

There are two responses to this objection. First, at best this objection only works against act-utilitarianism, which at least in theory advocates sitting down and calculating the good and bad consequences of each action that we plan to perform. Rule-utilitarianism, by contrast, does not focus on the consequences of particular actions but on the set of rules that are likely to bring about the most good. These rules indeed are publicized by rule-utilitarians.

A second response is one that act-utilitarians themselves might offer: The objection shows a bias only toward publicity (or even democracy). It may well be that publicity is only a rule of thumb to be overridden whenever there is good reason to believe that we can obtain more utility by not publicizing act- utilitarian ideas.

However, this response places an unacceptably low value on the benefits of publicity. Since we need to coordinate our actions with other people, moral rules must be publicly announced, typically through legal statutes. I may profit from cutting across the grass to save a few minutes in getting to class, but I also value a beautiful green lawn. We need public rules to ensure the healthy state of the lawn. So we agree on a rule to prohibit walking on the grass—even when it may have a utility function. There are many activities that may bring about indi- vidual utility advancement or even communal good, which if done regularly would be disastrous, such as cutting down trees to build houses or make news- papers or paper for books, valuable as it is. So we regulate the lumber industry so that every tree cut down is replaced with a new one and large forests are kept intact. So moral rules must be publicly advertised, often made into laws, and enforced. In short, while the publicity objection does not affect rule- utilitarianism, it appears to be a serious obstacle to act-utilitarianism.

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The Relativism Objection

Sometimes people accuse rule-utilitarianism of being relativistic because it seems to endorse different rules in different societies. In one society, it may uphold polygamy, whereas in our society it defends monogamy. In a desert society, it upholds a rule “Don’t waste water,” whereas in a community where water is plentiful no such rule exists. But this is not really conventional relativism because the rule is not made valid by the community’s choosing it but by the actual situation. In the first case, it is made valid by an imbalance in the ratio of women to men and, in the second case, by the environmental factors concerning the availability of water. Situationalism is different from relativism and consistent with objectivism because it really has to do with the application of moral principles—in this case, the utility principle.

But there is a more serious worry about rule-utilitarianism’s tendency toward relativism—namely, that it might become so flexible that it justifies any moral rule. Asked why we support benevolence as a moral rule, it seems too easy to respond, “Well, this principle will likely contribute to the greater utility in the long run.” The fear is that the act-utilitarian could give the same answer to rules that we consider malevolent, such as torture. Shifting conceptions of general happiness will generate shifting moral rules.

How might the rule-utilitarian respond to this? David Hume, an early defender of utilitarian moral reasoning, argued that human nature forces consis- tency in our moral assessments. Specifically, he argues, there are “universal prin- ciples of the human frame” that regulate what we find to be agreeable or disagreeable in moral matters. Benevolence, for example, is one such type of conduct that we naturally find agreeable.10 Following Hume’s lead, the rule- utilitarian might ground the key components of happiness in our common human psychological makeup rather than the result of fluctuating personal whims. This would give utilitarianism a more objective foundation and thus make it less susceptible to the charge of relativism.

CR IT IC ISM OF THE ENDS JUST IFY ING

IMMORAL MEANS

Chief among the criticisms of utilitarianism is that utilitarian ends might justify immoral means. There are many dastardly things that we can do in the name of maximizing general happiness: deceit, torture, slavery, even killing off ethnic minorities. As long as the larger populace benefits, these actions might be justi- fied. The general problem can be laid out in this argument:

(1) If a moral theory justifies actions that we universally deem impermissible, then that moral theory must be rejected.

(2) Utilitarianism justifies actions that we universally deem impermissible. (3) Therefore, utilitarianism must be rejected.

Let’s look at several versions of this argument.

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The Lying Objection

William D. Ross has argued that utilitarianism is to be rejected because it leads to the counterintuitive endorsement of lying when it serves the greater good. Con- sider two acts, A and B, that will both result in 100 hedons (units of pleasure of utility). The only difference is that A involves telling a lie and B involves telling the truth. The utilitarian must maintain that the two acts are of equal value. But this seems implausible; truth seems to be an intrinsically good thing.

Similarly, in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, we find this discussion of Communist philosophy in the former Soviet Union:

History has taught us that often lies serve her better than the truth; for man is sluggish and has to be led through the desert for forty years before each step in his development. And he has to be driven through the desert with threats and promises, by imaginary terrors and imaginary consolations, so that he should not sit down prematurely to rest and divert himself by worshipping golden calves.11

According to this interpretation, orthodox Soviet communism justified its lies through utilitarian ideas. Something in us revolts at this kind of value system. Truth is sacred and must not be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

In response to this objection, utilitarians might agree that there is something counterintuitive in the calculus of equating an act of lying with one of honesty; but, they argue, we must be ready to change our culturally induced moral biases. What is so important about truth telling or so bad about lying? If it turned out that lying really promoted human welfare, we’d have to accept it. But that’s not likely. Our happiness is tied up with a need for reliable information (that is, truth) on how to achieve our ends, so truthfulness will be a member of the rule-utility’s set. But where lying will clearly promote utility without undermin- ing the general adherence to the rule, we simply ought to lie. Don’t we already accept lying to a gangster or telling white lies to spare people’s feelings?

The Integrity Objection

Bernard Williams argues that utilitarianism violates personal integrity by com- manding that we violate our most central and deeply held principles. He illus- trates this with the following example:

Jim finds himself in the central square of a small South American town. Tied up against the wall are a row of twenty Indians, most terrified, a few defiant, in front of them several armed men in uniform. A heavy man in a sweat-stained khaki shirt turns out to be the captain in charge and, after a good deal of questioning of Jim which establishes that he got there by accident while on a botanical expedition, explains that the Indians are a random group of inhabitants who, after recent acts of protest against the government, are just about to be killed to remind other possible protesters of the advantages of not protesting. However, since Jim is an honored visitor from another land, the captain is happy

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to offer him a guest’s privilege of killing one of the Indians himself. If Jim accepts, then as a special mark of the occasion, the other Indians will be let off. Of course, if Jim refuses, then there is no special occasion, and Pedro here will do what he was about to do when Jim arrived, and kill them all. Jim, with some desperate recollection of schoolboy fiction, wonders whether if he got hold of a gun, he could hold the captain, Pedro and the rest of the soldiers to threat, but it is quite clear from the setup that nothing of that kind is going to work: any attempt of that sort of thing will mean that all the Indians will be killed, and himself. The men against the wall, the other villagers, understand the situation, and are obviously begging him to accept. What should he do?12

Williams asks rhetorically,

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 else’s projects have so struc- tured the causal scene that that is how the utilitarian sum comes out?13

In response to this criticism, the utilitarian can argue that integrity is not an absolute that must be adhered to at all costs. Some alienation may be necessary for the moral life, and the utilitarian can take this into account in devising strate- gies of action. Even when it is required that we sacrifice our lives or limit our freedom for others, we may have to limit or sacrifice something of what Williams calls our integrity. We may have to do the “lesser of evils” in many cases. If the utilitarian doctrine of negative responsibility is correct, we need to realize that we are responsible for the evil that we knowingly allow, as well as for the evil we commit.

The Justice Objection

With both of the previous problems, the utilitarian response was that we should reconsider whether truth telling and personal integrity are values that should never be compromised. The situation is intensified, though, when we consider standards of justice that most of us think should never be dispensed with. Let’s look at two examples, each of which highlights a different aspect of justice.

First, imagine that a murder is committed in a racially volatile community. As the sheriff of the town, you have spent a lifetime working for racial harmony. Now, just when your goal is being realized, this incident occurs. The crime is thought to be racially motivated, and a riot is about to break out that will very likely result in the death of several people and create long-lasting racial antagonism. You see that you could frame a tramp for the crime so that a trial will find him guilty and he will be executed. There is every reason to believe that a speedy trial and execution will head off the riot and save community harmony. Only you (and the real criminal, who will keep quiet about it) will know that an innocent man has been tried and executed.What is the morally right thing to do? The utilitarian seems committed to framing the tramp, but many would find this appalling.

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As a second illustration, imagine that you are a utilitarian physician who has five patients under your care. One needs a heart transplant, one needs two lungs, one needs a liver, and the last two each need a kidney. Now into your office comes a healthy bachelor needing an immunization. You judge that he would make a perfect sacrifice for your five patients. Through a utility-calculus, you determine that, without a doubt, you could do the most good by injecting the healthy man with a fatal drug and then using his organs to save your five other patients.14

These careless views of justice offend us. The very fact that utilitarians even consider such actions—that they would misuse the legal system or the medical system to carry out their schemes—seems frightening. It reminds us of the medi- eval Roman Catholic bishop’s justification for heresy hunts and inquisitions and religious wars:

When the existence of the Church is threatened, she is released from the commandments of morality. With unity as the end, the use of every means is sanctified, even cunning, treachery, violence, simony, prison, death. For all order is for the sake of the community, and the individual must be sacrificed to the common good.15

Similarly, Koestler argues that this logic was used by the Communists in the Soviet Union to destroy innocent people whenever it seemed to the Communist leaders that torture and false confessions served the good of the state because “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

How can the utilitarian respond to this? It won’t work this time to simply state that justice is not an absolute value that can be overridden for the good of the whole society. The sophisticated rule-utilitarian insists it makes good sense to have a principle of justice to which we generally adhere. That is, general happi- ness is best served when we adopt the value of justice. Justice should not be overridden by current utility concerns because human rights themselves are out- comes of utility consideration and should not be lightly violated. That is, because we tend subconsciously to favor our own interests and biases, we institute the principle of rights to protect ourselves and others from capricious and biased acts that would in the long run have great disutility. Thus, we must not under- mine institutional rights too easily. Thus, from an initial rule-utilitarian assess- ment, the sheriff should not frame the innocent tramp, and the doctor should not harvest organs from the bachelor.

However, the utilitarian cannot exclude the possibility of sacrificing inno- cent people for the greater good of humanity. Wouldn’t we all agree that it would be right to sacrifice one innocent person to prevent an enormous evil? Suppose, for example, a maniac is about to set off a nuclear bomb that will destroy New York City. He is scheduled to detonate the bomb in one hour. His psychiatrist knows the lunatic well and assures us that there is one way to stop him—torture his 10-year-old daughter and televise it. Suppose for the sake of the argument that there is no way to simulate the torture. Would you not consider torturing the child in this situation? As the rule-utilitarian would see it, we have two moral rules that are in conflict: the rule to prevent widespread

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harm and the rule against torture. To resolve this conflict, the rule-utilitarian might appeal to this second-level conflict-resolving rule: We may sacrifice an innocent person to prevent a significantly greater social harm. Or, if no conflict-resolving rule is available, the rule-utilitarian can appeal to this third- level remainder rule: When no other rule applies, simply do what your best judgment deems to be the act that will maximize utility. Using this remainder rule, the rule-utilitarian could justify torturing the girl.

Thus, in such cases, it might be right to sacrifice one innocent person to save a city or prevent some wide-scale disaster. In these cases, the rule-utilitarian’s approach to justice is in fact the same as the above-mentioned approach to lying and compromising one’s integrity: Justice is just one more lower-order principle within utilitarianism. The problem, clearly, is determining which kinds of wide-scale disasters warrant sacrificing innocent lives. This question invariably comes up in wartime: In every bombing raid, especially in the drop- ping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the noncombatant–com- batant distinction is overridden. Innocent civilian lives are sacrificed with the prospect of ending the war. We seem to be making this judgment call in our decision to drive automobiles and trucks even though we are fairly certain the practice will result in the death of thousands of innocent people each year. Judg- ment calls like these highlight utilitarianism’s difficulty in handling issues of justice.

CONCLUS ION

We have seen that multilevel rule-utilitarianism satisfies the purposes of ethics, gives a clear decision procedure for moral conduct, and focuses on helping peo- ple and reducing suffering in the world. It also offers a compelling solution to the problem of posterity. Further, rule-utilitarianism has responses to all the criticisms directed toward it. Whether the responses are adequate is another story. Perhaps it would be better to hold off making a final judgment about utilitarianism until considering the next two chapters, in which two other types of ethical theory are discussed.

NOTES

1. R. M. Hare, The Language of Morals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952), p. 60.

2. Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), Ch. 1; reprinted in Ethical Theory, ed. Louis Pojman (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011).

3. J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism (1861), Ch. 2; reprinted in Ethical Theory, ed. Louis Pojman (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011).

4. Ibid.

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5. Richard Brandt, “Towards a Credible Form of Utilitarianism,” in Morality and the Language of Conduct, ed. H. Castaneda and G. Naknikian (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1963), pp. 109–110.

6. Kai Nielsen, “Against Moral Conservatism,” Ethics 82 (1972): pp. 219–231.

7. Derek Parfit, “Energy Policy and the Further Future: The Identity Problem,” in Energy and the Future, ed. D. MacLean and P. Brown (Summit, PA: Rowman & Littlefield, 1983).

8. See Anthony Quinton, Utilitarian Ethics (London: Macmillan, 1973), pp. 49–50. Lewis and Quinton add a third type of consequence, namely, intended ones: An act is subjectively right if its agent intends or actually expects it to have the best consequences.

9. The famous nineteenth-century utilitarian Henry Sidgwick, in his The Methods of Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 483, argues that utilitarians should keep their views a secret for the good of society.

10. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), Sec. 9, Pt. 1.

11. Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon (London: Macmillan, 1941), p. 80.

12. Bernard Williams, “A Critique of Utilitarianism,” in Utilitarianism: For and Against, ed. J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 98–99.

13. Ibid.

14. This example and the earlier trolley car example are found in Judith Jarvis Thomson, “The Trolley Problem,” in Rights, Restitution and Risk, ed. W. Parent (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), pp. 94–116.

15. Dietrich von Nieheim, Bishop of Verden, De Schismate Libri, A.D. 1311, quoted in Koestler, Darkness at Noon, p. 76.

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Consider the three purposes of morality mentioned in Chapter 1: (a) to promote human flourishing, (b) to lessen human suffering, and (c) to resolve conflicts of interest justly. Which of these does utilitarianism fulfill, and which does it fail to fulfill?

2. One criticism of utilitarianism is that it fails to protect people’s rights. Try to develop this criticism and then explain whether or not you agree with it.

3. John Rawls maintains that utilitarianism errs in applying to society the principle of personal choice. For example, I have a right to go without a new suit so that I can save the money for my college education or for something else that I want. But utilitarianism demands that you forgo a new suit for someone else’s college education or for the overall good of the community. Is this a fair criticism?

4. If slavery could be humane and yield great overall utility, would utilitarians accept it? Discuss.

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5. Suppose you are an army officer who has just captured an enemy soldier who knows where a secret time bomb has been planted. Unless defused, the bomb will explode, killing thousands of people. Would it be morally per- missible to torture the soldier to get him to reveal the bomb’s location? Discuss this problem in the light of utilitarian and deontological theories.

6. Continuing the example in the previous question, suppose you have also captured the enemy soldier’s children. According to utilitarianism, would it be permissible to torture them to get him to reveal the bomb’s location?

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8

Kant and Deontological

Theories

L et’s look again at our opening story in Chapter 7 on utilitarianism. A mil-lionaire makes a dying request for you to donate $5 million to the Yankees. You agree but then are tempted to give the money to the World Hunger Relief Organization instead. What should you do? The utilitarian, who focuses on the consequences of actions, would tell you to act in a way that advances the greatest good for the greatest number. In essence, the end justifies the means. Accord- ingly, breaking your promise to the millionaire and donating to the World Hunger Relief Organization appears to be the way to go.

The deontological answer to this question, however, is quite the opposite. It is not the consequences that determine the rightness or wrongness of an act but certain features in the act itself or in the rule of which the act is a token or example. The end never justifies the means. For example, there is something right about truth telling and promise keeping even when such actions may bring about some harm; and there is something wrong about lying and promise breaking even when such actions may bring about good consequences. Acting unjustly is wrong even if it will maximize expected utility.

In this chapter, we explore deontological approaches of ethics, specifically that by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). The greatest philosopher of the German Enlightenment and one of the most important philosophers of all time, Kant was both an absolutist and a rationalist. He believed that we could use reason to work out a consistent, nonoverridable set of moral principles.

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KANT ’S INFLUENCES

To understand Kant’s moral philosophy, it is helpful to know a little about his influences, and we will consider two here. The first was the philosophical debate of his time between rationalism and empiricism, the second was natural law intuitionist theories that then dominated moral philosophy.

Rationalism and Empiricism

The philosophical debate between rationalism and empiricism took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Rationalists, such as René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and Christian Wolff, claimed that pure reason could tell us how the world is, independent of experience. We can know meta- physical truth such as the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, freedom of the will, and the universality of causal relations apart from experience. Expe- rience may be necessary to open our minds to these ideas, but essentially they are innate ideas that God implants in us from birth. Empiricists, led by John Locke and David Hume, on the other hand, denied that we have any innate ideas and argued that all knowledge comes from experience. Our minds are a tabula rasa, an empty slate, upon which experience writes her lessons.

The rationalists and empiricists carried their debate into the area of moral knowledge. The rationalists claimed that our knowledge of moral principles is a type of metaphysical knowledge, implanted in us by God, and discoverable by reason as it deduces general principles about human nature. On the other hand, empiricists, especially Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith, argued that morality is founded entirely on the contingencies of human nature and based on desire. Morality concerns making people happy, fulfilling their reflected desires, and reason is just a practical means of helping them fulfill their desires. There is nothing of special importance in reason in its own right. It is mainly a rationalizer and servant of the passions. As Hume said, “Reason is and ought only to be a slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” Morality is founded on our feeling of sympathy with other people’s sufferings, on fellow feeling. For such empiricists then, morality is contingent upon human nature:

Human nature ! Feelings and Desires ! Moral principles If we had a different nature, then we would have different feelings and

desires, and hence we would have different moral principles. Kant rejected the ideas of Hutcheson, Hume, and Smith. He was outraged

by the thought that morality should depend on human nature and be subject to the fortunes of change and the luck of empirical discovery. Morality is not con- tingent but necessary. It would be no less binding on us if our feelings were different from what they are. Kant writes,

Every empirical element is not only quite incapable of being an aid to the principle of morality, but is even highly prejudicial to the purity of

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morals; for the proper and inestimable worth of an absolutely good will consists just in this, that the principle of action is free from all influence of contingent grounds, which alone experience can furnish. We cannot too much or too often repeat our warning against this lax and even mean habit of thought which seeks for its principle amongst empirical motives and laws; for human reason in its weariness is glad to rest on this pillow, and in a dream of sweet illusions it substitutes for morality a bastard patched up from limbs of various derivation, which looks like anything one chooses to see in it; only not like virtue to one who has once beheld her in her true form.1

No, said Kant, it is not our desires that ground morality but our rational will. Reason is sufficient for establishing the moral law as something transcendent and universally binding on all rational creatures.

Act- and Rule-Intuitionism

Since the Middle Ages, one of the dominant versions of European moral philoso- phy was natural law theory. In a nutshell, this view maintained that, through rational intuitions embedded in human nature by God, we discover eternal and absolute moral principles. Medieval natural law philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that we have a special mental process called synderesis that gives us general knowledge of moral goodness. From this knowledge, then, we derive a series of basic moral obligations. What is key here is the idea that humans have a natural faculty that gives us an intuitive awareness of morality. This general position is called intuitionism. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some sort of intuitionism was assumed in most ethical theories, and Kant was heavily influ- enced by some of them. Two basic forms emerged: act- and rule-intuitionism.

Act-intuitionism sees each act as a unique ethical occasion and holds that we must decide what is right or wrong in each situation by consulting our con- science or our intuitions or by making a choice apart from any rules. For each specific act that we consider performing, we must consult our conscience to dis- cover the morally right (or wrong) thing to do. An expression of act-intuitionism is in the famous moral sermons of Joseph Butler (1692–1752), a bishop within the Church of England. He writes,

[If] any plain honest man, before he engages in any course of action, ask [s] himself, Is this I am going about right, or is it wrong? … I do not in the least doubt but that this question would be answered agreeably to truth and virtue, by almost any fair man in almost any circumstance.2

Butler believed that we each have a conscience that can discover what is right and wrong in virtually every instance. This is consistent with advice such as “Let your conscience be your guide.” We do not need general rules to learn what is right and wrong; our intuition will inform us of those things. The judg- ment lies in the moral perception and not in some abstract, general rule.

Act-intuitionism, however, has some serious disadvantages. First, it is hard to see how any argument could take place with an intuitionist: Either you both have the

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same intuition about lying or you don’t, and that’s all there is to it. If I believe that a specific act of abortion is morally permissible and you believe it is morally wrong, thenwemay ask each other to lookmore deeply into our consciences, but we cannot argue about the subject. There is a place for deep intuitions in moral philosophy, but intuitions must still be scrutinized by reason and corrected by theory.

Second, it seems that rules are necessary to all reasoning, including moral reasoning, and act-intuitionists seem to ignore this. You may test this by thinking about how you learn to drive a car, to do long division, or to type. Even though you may eventually internalize the initial principles as habits so that you are unconscious of them, one could still cite a rule that covers your action. For example, you may no longer remember the rules for accelerating a car, but there was an original experience of learning the rule, which you continue unconsciously to follow. Moral rules such as “Keep your promises” and “Don’t kill innocent people” seem to function in a similar way.

Third, different situations seem to share common features, so it would be inconsistent for us to prescribe different moral actions. Suppose you believe that it is morally wrong for John to cheat on his math exam. If you also believe that it is morally permissible for you to cheat on the same exam, don’t you need to explain what makes your situation different from John’s? If I say that it is wrong for John to cheat on exams, am I not implying that it is wrong for anyone rele- vantly similar to John (including all students) to cheat on exams? That is, morality seems to involve a universal aspect, or what is called the principle of universaliz- ability: If one judges that X is right (or wrong) or good (or bad), then one is ratio- nally committed to judging anything relevantly similar to X as right (wrong) or good (bad). If this principle is sound, then act-intuitionism is misguided.

The other intuitionist approach, rule-intuitionism, maintains that we must decide what is right or wrong in each situation by consulting moral rules that we receive through intuition. Rule-intuitionists accept the principle of universaliz- ability as well as the notion that in making moral judgments we are appealing to principles or rules. Such rules as “We ought never to lie,” “We ought always to keep our promises,” and “We ought never to execute an innocent person” con- stitute a set of valid prescriptions regardless of the outcomes. The rule-intuitionist to have the greatest impact on Kant was German philosopher Samuel Pufendorf (1632–1694), the dominant natural law theorist of his time. Pufendorf describes the intuitive process by which we acquire moral knowledge:

It is usually said that we have knowledge of this [moral] law from nature itself. However, this is not to be taken to mean that plain and distinct notions concerning what is to be done or avoided were implanted in the minds of newborn people. Instead, nature is said to teach us, partly because the knowledge of this law may be attained by the help of the light of reason. It is also partly because the general and most useful points of it are so plain and clear that, at first sight, they force assent…. Although we are not able to remember the precise time when they first took hold of our understandings and professed our minds, we can have no other opinion of our knowledge of this law except that it was native to our beings, or born together and at the same time with ourselves.3

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The moral intuitions that we have, according to Pufendorf, fall into three groups: duties to God, to oneself, and to others. The duties in all these cases are moral rules that guide our actions. Within these three groupings, the main rules of duty that Pufendorf advocates are these:

■ To God. Know the existence and nature of God; worship God. ■ To oneself. Develop one’s skills and talents; avoid harming our bodies, such as

through gluttony or drunkenness, and not killing oneself. ■ To others. Avoid wronging others; treat people as equals; promote the good

of others; keep one’s promises.

Kant was influenced by Pufendorf in two ways. First, Kant was a rule- intuitionist of a special sort: He believed that moral knowledge comes to us through rational intuition in the form of moral rules. As we will see, Kant’s moral psychology is rather complex, and his conception of intuition draws on a distinct notion of reason, which we don’t find in Pufendorf. Second, Kant accepted Pufendorf’s division of duties toward God, oneself, and others. Duties toward God, Kant argues, are actually religious duties, not moral ones. However, duties to oneself and others are genuine moral obligations.

THE CATEGORICAL IMPERAT IVE

The principal moral rule in Kant’s ethical theory is what he calls the categorical imperative—essentially meaning “absolute command.” Before introducing us to the specific rule itself, he sets the stage with an account of intrinsic moral goodness.

Intrinsic Goodness and the Good Will

As we have noted, Kant wanted to remove moral truth from the zone of con- tingency and empirical observation and place it securely in the area of necessary, absolute, universal truth. Morality’s value is not based on the fact that it has instrumental value, that it often secures nonmoral goods such as happiness; rather, morality is valuable in its own right:

Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good without qualification, except the GoodWill. Intelli- gence, wit, judgment, and the other talents of the mind, however they may be named, or courage, resolution, perseverance, as qualities of tempera- ment, as undoubtedly good and desirable in many respects; but these gifts of nature also may become extremely bad and mischievous if the will which is to make use of them, and which, therefore constitutes what is called character is not good…. Even if it should happen that, owing to special disfavor of fortune, or the stingy provision of a step-motherly nature, this Good Will should wholly lack power to accomplish its purpose, if with its greatest efforts it should yet achieve nothing, and there should remain only the Good Will,… then, like a jewel, it would still shine by its own light, as a

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thing which has its whole value in itself. Its usefulness or fruitfulness can neither add to nor take away anything from this value.4

The only thing that is absolutely good, good in itself and without qualifica- tion, is the good will. All other intrinsic goods, both intellectual and moral, can serve the vicious will and thus contribute to evil. They are only morally valuable if accompanied by a good will. Even success and happiness are not good in them- selves. Honor can lead to pride. Happiness without good will is undeserved luck, ill-gotten gain. Nor is utilitarianism plausible, for if we have a quantity of happi- ness to distribute, is it just to distribute it equally, regardless of virtue? Should we not distribute it discriminately, according to moral goodness? Happiness should be distributed in proportion to people’s moral worth.

How successful is Kant’s argument for the good will? Could we imagine a world where people always and necessarily put nonmoral virtues to good use, where it is simply impossible to use a virtue such as intelligence for evil? Is happiness any less good simply because one can distribute it incorrectly? Can’t one put the good will itself to bad use as the misguided do-gooder might? As the aphorism goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Could Hitler have had good intentions in carrying out his dastardly programs? Can’t the good will have bad effects?

Although we may agree that the good will is a great good, it is not obvious that Kant’s account is correct, that it is the only inherently good thing. For even as intelligence, courage, and happiness can be put to bad uses or have bad effects, so can the good will; and even as it does not seem to count against the good will that it can be put to bad uses, so it should not count against the other virtues that they can be put to bad uses. The good will may be a necessary element to any morally good action, but whether the good will is also a sufficient condition to moral goodness is another question.

Nonetheless, perhaps we can reinterpret Kant so as to preserve his central insight. There does seem to be something morally valuable about the good will, apart from any consequences. Consider the following illustration. Two soldiers volunteer to cross enemy lines to contact their allies on the other side. Both start off and do their best to get through the enemy area. One succeeds; the other does not and is captured. But, aren’t they both morally praiseworthy? The success of one in no way detracts from the goodness of the other. Judged from a common- sense moral point of view, their actions are equally good; judged from a utilitarian or consequentialist view, the successful act is far more valuable than the unsuccess- ful one. Here, we can distinguish the agent’s worth from the value of the conse- quences and make two separate, nonconflicting judgments.

Hypothetical versus Categorical Imperatives

For Kant, all mention of duties (or obligations) can be translated into the lan- guage of imperatives, or commands. As such, moral duties can be said to have imperative force. He distinguishes two kinds of imperatives: hypothetical and categorical. The formula for a hypothetical imperative is “If you want A, then do B.” For example, “If you want a good job, then get a good education,” or “If you want to be happy, then stay sober and live a balanced life.” The for- mula for a categorical imperative is simply: “Do B!” That is, do what reason

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discloses to be the intrinsically right thing to do, such as “Tell the truth!” Hypo- thetical, or means–ends, imperatives are not the kind of imperatives that charac- terize moral actions. Categorical, or unqualified, imperatives are the right kind of imperatives, because they show proper recognition of the imperial status of moral obligations. Such imperatives are intuitive, immediate, absolute injunctions that all rational agents understand by virtue of their rationality.

Kant argues that one must perform moral duty solely for its own sake (“duty for duty’s sake”). Some people conform to the moral law because they deem it in their own enlightened self-interest to be moral. But they are not truly moral because they do not act for the sake of themoral law. For example, a businessmanmay believe that “honesty is the best policy”; that is, hemay judge that it is conducive to good business to give his customers correct change and high-quality products. But, unless he per- forms these acts because they are his duty, he is not actingmorally, even though his acts are the same ones they would be if he were acting morally.

The kind of imperative that fits Kant’s scheme as a product of reason is one that universalizes principles of conduct. He names it the categorical impera- tive (CI): “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.” The categorical imperative, for Kant, is a procedure for determining the morality of any course of action. All specific moral duties, he writes, “can be derived from this single imperative.” Thus, for example, duties to oneself such as developing one’s talents and not killing oneself can be deduced from the categorical imperative. So too can duties to others, such as keeping promises and helping those in need.

The first step in the categorical imperative procedure is for us to consider the underlying maxim of our proposed action. By maxim, Kant means the general rule in accordance with which the agent intends to act. For example, if I am thinking about assisting someone in need, my underlying maximmight be this: “When I see someone in need, I should assist him or her when it does not cause an undue burden on me.” The second step is to consider whether this maxim could be universalized to apply to everyone, such as “When anyone sees someone in need, that person should assist him or her when it does not cause an undue burden on the person.” If it can be universalized, then we accept the maxim, and the action is moral. If it cannot be universalized, then we reject the maxim, and the action is immoral. The general scheme of the CI procedure, then, is this:

Maxim of action

# Universalize maxim

# Accept successfully universalized maxim (reject unsuccessful maxim) According to Kant, there is only one categorical imperative, but he presents

three formulations of it:

■ Principle of the law of nature. “Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature.”

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■ Principle of ends. “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end and never as merely a means.”

■ Principle of autonomy. “So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxims.”

The theme that ties all of these formulations together is universalizability: Can a particular course of action be generalized so that it applies to any rele- vantly similar person in that kind of situation? For Kant, determining whether a maxim can successfully be universalized hinges on which of the three specific formulations of the categorical imperative that we follow. The bottom line for all three, though, is that we stand outside our personal maxims and estimate impartially and impersonally whether our maxims are suitable as principles for all of us to live by.

Let’s look at each of these formulations, beginning with the first and most influential, the principle of the law of nature.

The Principle of the Law of Nature: Four Examples

Again, the CI principle of the law of nature is this: “Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature.” The emphasis here is that you must act analogous to the laws of physics, specifically insofar as such laws are not internally conflicting or self-defeating. For example, nature could not subsist with a law of gravity that had an object fall both up and down at the same time. Similarly, a system of morality could not subsist when a universalized maxim has an internal conflict. If you could consistently will that everyone would act on a given maxim, then there is an application of the cate- gorical imperative showing the moral permissibility of the action. If you could not consistently will that everyone would act on the maxim, then that type of action is morally wrong; the maxim must then be rejected as self-defeated.

The heart of this formulation of the CI is the notion of a “contradiction,” and there has been much debate about exactly the kind of contradiction that Kant had in mind. John Stuart Mill famously criticized this aspect of the CI: “[Kant] fails, almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any contradic- tion, any logical (not to say physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct” (Utilitarianism, Ch. 1). But contemporary American philosopher Christine Korsgaard argues that there are three possible interpretations of what Kant meant by “contradiction.” First, Kant might have meant that the universalization of such a maxim would be a logical contradiction, where the proposed action would simply be inconceivable. Second, he might have meant that it would be a teleological contradiction, where the maxim could not function as a law within a purposeful and organized system of nature. Third, he might have meant that it would be a practical contradiction, where my action would become ineffective for achieving my purpose if every- one tried to use it for that purpose. Korsgaard believes that all three of these interpretations are supported by Kant’s writings, and Kant himself may not have even seen any differences between the three. But, she argues, the third

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one is preferable because it enables the universalization test to handle more cases successfully. She writes,

What the test shows to be forbidden are just those actions whose effi- cacy in achieving their purposes depends upon their being exceptional. If the action no longer works as a way of achieving the purpose in question when it is universalized, then it is an action of this kind.5

This formulation of the CI reveals a practical contradiction in my action insofar as it shows that I am trying to get away with something that would never work if others did the same thing. It exposes unfairness, deception, and cheating in what I am proposing.

Kant gives four examples of the application of this test: (1) making a lying promise, (2) committing suicide, (3) neglecting one’s talent, and (4) refraining from helping others. The first and fourth of these are duties to others, whereas the second and third of these are duties to oneself. Kant illustrates how the CI principle of the law of nature works by applying it to each of these maxims.

Making a Lying Promise Suppose I need some money and am considering whether it would be moral to borrow the money from you and promise to repay it without ever intending to do so. Could I say to myself that everyone should make a false promise when he is in difficulty from which he otherwise cannot escape? The maxim of my act is M:

M. Whenever I need money, I should make a lying promise while borrowing the money.

Can I universalize the maxim of my act? By applying the universalizability test to M, we get P:

P. Whenever anyone needs money, that person should make a lying promise while borrowing the money.

But, something has gone wrong, for if I universalize this principle of making promises without intending to keep them, I would be involved in a contradiction:

I immediately see that I could will the lie but not a universal law to lie. For with such a law [that is, with such a maxim universally acted on] there would be no promises at all…. Thus my maxim would necessarily destroy itself as soon as it was made a universal law.6

The resulting state of affairs would be self-defeating because no one in his or her right mind would take promises as promises unless there was the expectation of fulfillment. Thus, the maxim of the lying promise fails the universalizability criterion; hence, it is immoral. Now, I consider the opposite maxim, one based on keeping my promise:

M1. Whenever I need money, I should make a sincere promise while borrowing it.

Can I successfully universalize this maxim?

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P1. Whenever anyone needs money, that person should make a sincere promise while borrowing it.

Yes, I can universalize M1 because there is nothing self-defeating or contra- dictory in this. So, it follows, making sincere promises is moral; we can make the maxim of promise keeping into a universal law.

Committing Suicide Some of Kant’s illustrations do not fare as well as the duty to keep promises. For instance, he argues that the categorical imperative would prohibit suicide because we could not successfully universalize the maxim of such an act. If we try to universalize it, we obtain the principle, “Whenever it looks like one will expe- rience more pain than pleasure, one ought to kill oneself,”which, according to Kant, is a self-contradiction because it would go against the very principle of survival upon which it is based. But whatever the merit of the form of this argument, we could modify the principle to read “Whenever the pain or suffering of existence erodes the quality of life in such a way as to make nonexistence a preference to suffering existence, one is permitted to commit suicide.” Why couldn’t this (or something close to it) be universalized? It would cover the rare instances in which no hope is in sight for terminally ill patients or for victims of torture or deep depression, but it would not cover the kinds of suffering and depression most of us experience in the normal course of life. Kant seems unduly absolutist in his prohibition of suicide.

Neglecting One’s Talent Kant’s other two examples of the application of the CI principle of the law of nature are also questionable. In his third example, he claims that we cannot universalize a maxim to refrain from developing our talents. But again, could we not qualify this and stipulate that under certain circumstances it is permissible not to develop our talents? Perhaps Kant is correct in that, if every- one selfishly refrained from developing talents, society would soon degenerate into anarchy. But couldn’t one universalize the following maxim M3?

M3. Whenever I am not inclined to develop a talent, and this refraining will not seriously undermine the social order, I may so refrain.

Refraining from Helping Others Kant’s last example of the way the CI prin- ciple of the law of nature functions regards the situation of not coming to the aid of others whenever I am secure and independent. He claims that I cannot uni- versalize this maxim because I never know whether I will need the help of others at some future time. Is Kant correct about this? Why could I not univer- salize a maxim never to set myself a goal whose achievement appears to require the cooperation of others? I would have to give up any goal as soon as I realized that cooperation with others was required. In what way is this contradictory or self-defeating? Perhaps it would be selfish and cruel to make this into a universal law, but there seems nothing contradictory or self-defeating in the principle itself. The problems with universalizing selfishness are the same ones we encoun- tered in analyzing egoism, but it is doubtful whether Kant’s categorical impera- tive captures what is wrong with egoism. Perhaps he has other weapons that do elucidate what is wrong with egoism (we return to this later).

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COUNTEREXAMPLES TO THE PR INC IPLE OF THE

LAW OF NATURE

Kant thought that he could generate an entire moral law from his categorical imperative. The above test of universalizability advocated by Kant’s principle of the law of nature seems to work with such principles as promise keeping and truth telling and a few other maxims, but it doesn’t seem to give us all that Kant wanted. It has been objected that Kant’s categorical imperative is both too wide and too unqualified. The charge that it is too wide is based on the perception that it seems to justify some actions that we might consider trivial or even immoral.

Counterexample 1: Mandating Trivial Actions

For an example of a trivial action that might be mandated by the categorical imperative, consider the following maxim M:

M. I should always tie my right shoe before my left shoe.

This generates the following principle P:

P. We should always tie our right shoe before our left shoe.

Can we universalize P without contradiction? It seems that we can. Just as we universalize that people should drive cars on the right side of the street rather than the left, we could make it a law that everyone should tie the right shoe before the left shoe. But it seems obvious that there would be no point to such a law—it would be trivial. But it is justified by the categorical imperative.

It may be objected that all this counterexample shows is that it may be per- missible (not obligatory) to live by the principle of tying the right shoe before the left because we could also universalize the opposite maxim (tying the left before the right) without contradiction. That seems correct.

Counterexample 2: Endorsing Cheating

Another counterexample, offered by Fred Feldman,7 appears to show that the categorical imperative endorses cheating. Maxim M states:

M. Whenever I need a term paper for a course and don’t feel like writing one, I will buy a term paper from Research Anonymous and submit it as my own work.

Now we universalize this maxim into a universal principle P:

P. Whenever anyone needs a term paper for a course and doesn’t feel like writing one, the person will buy one from a suitable source and submit it as his or her own.

This procedure seems to be self-defeating. It would undermine the whole pro- cess of academic work because teachers would not believe that research papers really represented the people who turned them in. Learning would not occur;

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grades and transcripts would be meaningless, and the entire institution of educa- tion would break down; the whole purpose of cheating would be defeated.

But suppose we made a slight adjustment to M and P, inventing M1 and P1:

M1. When I need a term paper for a course and don’t feel like writing one, and no change in the system will occur if I submit a store-bought one, then I will buy a term paper and submit it as my own work.

P1. Whenever anyone needs a term paper for a course and doesn’t feel like writing it, and no change in the system will occur if one submits a store-bought paper, then one will buy the term paper and submit it as one’s own work.

Does P1 pass as a legitimate expression of the categorical imperative? It might seem to satisfy the conditions, but Kantian students have pointed out that for a principle to be universalizable, or lawlike, one must ensure that it is public.

However, if P1 were public and everyone was encouraged to live by it, then it would be exceedingly difficult to prevent an erosion of the system. Teachers would take precautions against it. Would cheaters have to announce themselves publicly? In sum, the attempt to universalize even this qualified form of cheating would undermine the very institution that makes cheating possible. So, P1 may be a thinly veiled oxymoron: Do what will undermine the educational process in such a way that it doesn’t undermine the educational process.

Counterexample 3: Prohibiting Permissible Actions

Another type of counterexample might be used to show that the categorical imperative refuses to allow us to do things that common sense permits. Suppose I need to flush the toilet, so I formulate my maxim M:

M. At time t1, I will flush the toilet.

I universalize this maxim:

P. At time t1, everyone should flush their toilet.

But I cannot will this if I realize that the pressure of millions of toilets flush- ing at the same time would destroy the nation’s plumbing systems, and so I could not then flush the toilet. The way out of this problem is to qualify the original maxim M to read M1:

M1. Whenever I need to flush the toilet and have no reason to believe that it will set off the impairment or destruction of the community’s plumbing system, I may do so.

From this we can universalize to P1:

P1. Whenever anyone needs to flush the toilet and has no reason to believe that it will set off the destruction of the community’s plumbing system, he or she may do so.

Thus, Kant could plausibly respond to some of the objections to his theory.

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Counterexample 4: Mandating Genocide

More serious is the fact that the categorical imperative appears to justify acts that we judge to be horrendously immoral. Suppose I hate people of a certain race, religion, or ethnic group. Suppose it is Americans that I hate and that I am not an American. My maxim is this:

M. Let me kill anyone who is American.

Universalizing M, we get P:

P. Always kill Americans.

Is there anything contradictory in this injunction? Could we make it into a universal law? Why not? Americans might not like it, but there is no logical con- tradiction involved in such a principle. Had I been an American when this com- mand was in effect, I would not have been around to write this book, but the world would have survived my loss without too much inconvenience. If I suddenly discover that I am an American, I would have to commit suicide. But as long as I am willing to be consistent, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with my principle, so far as its being based on the categorical imperative is concerned.

As with the shoe-tying example, it would be possible to universalize the oppo- site—that no one should kill innocent people. Nevertheless, we certainly wouldn’t want to say that it is permissible to adopt the principle “Always kill Americans.”

We conclude, then, that even though the first version of the categorical imper- ative is an important criterion for evaluating moral principles, it still needs supple- mentation. In itself, it is purely formal and leaves out any understanding about the content or material aspect of morality. The categorical imperative, with its universa- lizability test, constitutes a necessary condition for being a valid moral principle, but it does not provide us with a sufficiency criterion. That is, if any principle is to count as rational or moral, it must be universalizable; it must apply to everyone and to every case that is relevantly similar. If I believe that it’s wrong for others to cheat on exams, then unless I can find a reason to believe that I am relevantly different from these others, it is also wrong for me to cheat on exams. If premarital heterosexual sex is prohibited for women, then it must also be prohibited for men (otherwise, with whom would the men have sex—other men’s wives?). This formal consistency, however, does not tell us whether cheating itself is right or wrong or whether pre- marital sex is right or wrong. That decision has to do with the material content of morality, and we must use other considerations to help us decide about that.

OTHER FORMULAT IONS OF THE CATEGORICAL

IMPERAT IVE

We’ve discussed Kant’s first formulation of the categorical imperative; now we will consider the two others: the principle of ends and the principle of autonomy.

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The Principle of Ends

Again, the principle of ends is this: “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end and never as merely a means.” Each person as a rational being has dignity and profound worth, which entails that he or she must never be exploited or manipulated or merely used as a means to our idea of what is for the general good (or to any other end).

What is Kant’s argument for viewing rational beings as having ultimate value? It goes like this: In valuing anything, I endow it with value; it can have no value apart from someone’s valuing it. As a valued object, it has conditional worth, which is derived from my valuation. On the other hand, the person who values the object is the ultimate source of the object, and as such belongs to a different sphere of beings. We, as valuers, must conceive of ourselves as hav- ing unconditioned worth. We cannot think of our personhood as a mere thing because then we would have to judge it to be without any value except that given to it by the estimation of someone else. But then that person would be the source of value, and there is no reason to suppose that one person should have unconditional worth and not another who is relevantly similar. Therefore, we are not mere objects. We have unconditional worth and so must treat all such value-givers as valuable in themselves—as ends, not merely means. I leave it to you to evaluate the validity of this argument, but most of us do hold that there is something exceedingly valuable about human life.

Kant thought that this formulation, the principle of ends, was substantively identical to his first formulation of the categorical imperative, but most scholars disagree with him. It seems better to treat this principle as a supplement to the first, adding content to the purely formal CI principle of the law of nature. In this way, Kant would limit the kinds of maxims that could be universalized. Egoism and the principle regarding the killing of Americans would be ruled out at the very outset because they involve a violation of the dignity of rational persons. The process would be as follows:

1. Formulate the maxim (M).

2. Apply the ends test. (Does the maxim involve violating the dignity of rational beings?)

3. Apply the principle of the law of nature universalization test. (Can the maxim be universalized?)

4. Successful moral principles survive both tests.

In any event, we may ask whether the CI principle of ends fares better than the CI principle of the law of nature. Three problems soon emerge. The first has to do with Kant’s setting such a high value on rationality. Why does reason and only reason have intrinsic worth? Who gives this value to rational beings, and how do we know that they have this value? What if we believe that reason has only instrumental value?

Kant’s notion of the high inherent value of reason will be plausible to those who believe that humans are made in the image of God and who interpret that

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as entailing that our rational capabilities are the essence of being created in God’s image: We have value because God created us with worth—that is, with reason. But, even nontheists may be persuaded that Kant is correct in seeing rationality as inherently good. It is one of the things rational beings value more than virtu- ally anything else, and it is a necessary condition to whatever we judge to be a good life or an ideal life (a truly happy life).

Kant seems to be correct in valuing rationality. It does enable us to engage in deliberate and moral reasoning, and it lifts us above lower animals. Where he may have gone wrong is in neglecting other values or states of being that may have moral significance. For example, he believed that we have no obligations to animals because they are not rational. But surely the utilitarians are correct when they insist that the fact that animals can suffer should constrain our behavior toward them: We ought not cause unnecessary harm. Perhaps Kantians can sup- plement their system to accommodate this objection.

This brings us to our second problem with Kant’s formulation. If we agree that reason is an intrinsic value, then does it not follow that those who have more of this quality should be respected and honored more than those who have less?

(1) Reason is an intrinsic good. (2) The more we have of an intrinsically good thing, the better. (3) Therefore, those who have more reason than others are intrinsically better.

Thus, by Kantian logic, people should be treated in exact proportion to their ability to reason, so geniuses and intellectuals should be given privileged status in society, as Plato and Aristotle might argue. Kant could deny the second premise and argue that rationality is a threshold quality, but the objector could come back and argue that there really are degrees in ability to use reason, ranging from gorillas and chimpanzees all the way to the upper limits of human genius. Should we treat gorillas and chimps as ends in themselves while still exploiting small babies and severely senile people because the former do not yet act ratio- nally and the latter have lost what ability they had? If we accept the Kantian principle of ends, what should be our view on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia?

Kant’s principle of ends says all humans have dignity by virtue of their ratio- nality, so they are permitted to exploit animals (who are intelligent but not ratio- nal). But suppose Galacticans who visited our planet were superrational, as superior to us as we are to other animals. Would we then be second-class citizens whom the Galacticans could justifiably exploit for their purposes? Suppose they thought we tasted good and were nutritious. Would morality permit them to eat us? Kantians would probably insist that minimal rationality gives one status—but then, wouldn’t some animals who deliberate (chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and dol- phins) gain status as persons? And don’t sheep, dogs, cats, pigs, and cows exhibit minimally rational behavior? Should we eat them? The Chinese think nothing is wrong with eating dogs and cats.

There is a third problem with Kant’s view of the dignity of rational beings. Even if we should respect them and treat them as ends, this does not tell us very much. It may tell us not to enslave them or not to act cruelly toward them

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without a good reason, but it doesn’t tell us what to do in situations where our two or more moral duties conflict.

For example, what does it tell us to do about a terminally ill woman who wants us to help her die? What does it tell us to do in a war when we are about to aim our gun at an enemy soldier? What does it mean to treat such a rational being as an end? What does it tell us to do with regard to the innocent, potential victim and the gangsters who have just asked us the whereabouts of the victim? What does it tell us about whether we should steal from the pharmacy to procure medicine we can’t afford in order to bring healing to a loved one? It’s hard to see how the notion of ends helps us much in these situations. In fairness to Kant, however, we must say that virtually every moral system has trouble with dilemmas and that it might be possible to supplement Kantianism to solve some of them.

The Principle of Autonomy

The final formulation of the categorical imperative is the principle of autonomy: “So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxims.” That is, we do not need an external authority—be it God, the state, our culture, or anyone else—to determine the nature of the moral law. We can discover this for ourselves. And the Kantian faith proclaims, everyone who is ideally rational will legislate exactly the same universal moral principles.

The opposite of autonomy is heteronomy: The heteronomous person is one whose actions are motivated by the authority of others, whether it is reli- gion, the state, his or her parents, or a peer group. The following illustration may serve as an example of the difference between these two states of being.

In the early 1960s, Stanley Milgram of Yale University conducted a series of social psychological experiments aimed at determining the degree to which the ordinary citizen was obedient to authority. Volunteers from all walks of life were recruited to participate in “a study of memory and learning.” Two people at a time were taken into the laboratory. The experimenter explained that one was to play the role of the “teacher” and the other the role of the “learner.” The teacher was put in a separate room from which he or she could see the learner through a win- dow. The teacher was instructed to ask the learner to choose the correct correlate to a given word, and the learner was to choose from a set of options. If the learner got the correct word, they moved on to the next word. But, if the learner chose the wrong word, he or she was punished with an electric shock. The teacher was given a sample shock of 45 volts just to get the feeling of the game. Each time that the learner made a mistake, the shock was increased by 15 volts (starting at 15 volts and continuing to 450 volts). The meter was marked with verbal designations: slight shock, moderate shock, strong shock, very strong shock, intense shock, extreme-intensity shock, danger: severe shock, and XXX. As the experiment pro- ceeded, the learner would generally be heard grunting at the 75-volt shock, crying out at 120 volts, begging for release at 150 volts, and screaming in agony at 270 volts. At around 300 volts, there was usually dead silence.

Now, unbeknown to the teacher, the learner was not actually experiencing any shocks; the learners were really trained actors simulating agony. The results

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of the experiment were astounding. Whereas Milgram and associates had expected that only a small proportion of citizens would comply with the instruc- tions, 60 percent were completely obedient and carried out the experiment to the very end. Only a handful refused to participate in the experiment at all once they discovered what it involved. Some 35 percent left at various stages. Milgram’s experiments were later replicated in Munich, Germany, where 85 percent of the subjects were found to be completely “obedient to authority.”

There are two ways in which the problems of autonomy and heteronomy are illustrated by this example. In the first place, the experiment seems to show that the average citizen acts less autonomously than we might expect. People are basically heteronomous, herd followers. In the second place, there is the question about whether Milgram should have subjected people to these experiments. Was he violating their autonomy and treating them as means (rather than ends) in deceiving them in the way he did? Perhaps a utilitarian would have an easier time justifying these experiments than a Kantian.

In any case, for Kant, it is our ability to use reason in universalizing the max- ims of our actions that sets rational beings apart from nonrational beings. As such, rational beings belong to a kingdom of ends. Kant thought that each of us—as a fully rational, autonomous legislator—would be able to reason through to exactly the same set of moral principles, the ideal moral law.

THE PROBLEM OF EXCEPT IONLESS RULES

One of the problems that plague all formulations of Kant’s categorical imperative is that it yields unqualified absolutes. The rules that the categorical imperative gener- ates are universal and exceptionless. He illustrates this point with regard to truth telling: Suppose an innocent man, Mr. Y, comes to your door, begging for asylum, because a group of gangsters is hunting him down to kill him. You take the man in and hide him in your third-floor attic. Moments later the gangsters arrive and inquire after the innocent man: “Is Mr. Y in your house?” What should you do? Kant’s advice is to tell them the truth: “Yes, he’s in my house.”8 What is Kant’s reasoning here? It is simply that the moral law is exceptionless.

It is your duty to obey its commands, not to reason about the likely conse- quences. You have done your duty: hidden an innocent man and told the truth when asked a straightforward question. You are absolved of any responsibility for the harm that comes to the innocent man. It’s not your fault that there are gang- sters in the world.

To many of us, this kind of absolutism seems counterintuitive. One way we might alter Kant here is simply to write in qualifications to the universal princi- ples, changing the sweeping generalization “Never lie” to the more modest “Never lie, except to save an innocent person’s life.” The trouble with this way of solving the problem is that there seem to be no limits on the qualifica- tions that would need to be attached to the original generalization—for example, “Never lie, except to save an innocent person’s life (unless trying to save that

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person’s life will undermine the entire social fabric),” or “Never lie, except to save an innocent person’s life (unless this will undermine the social fabric),” or “Never lie, except to spare people great anguish (such as telling a cancer patient the truth about her condition).” And so on. The process seems infinite and time- consuming and thus impractical.

However, another strategy is open for Kant—namely, following the prima facie duty approach advocated by twentieth-century moral philosopher William D. Ross (1877–1971). Let’s first look at the key features of Ross’s theory and then adapt it to Kant’s.

Ross and Prima Facie Duties

Today, Ross is perhaps the most important deontological theorist after Kant, and, like Pufendorf, Ross is a rule-intuitionist. There are three components of Ross’s theory. The first of these is his notion of “moral intuition,” internal per- ceptions that both discover the correct moral principles and apply them cor- rectly. Although they cannot be proved, the moral principles are self-evident to any normal person upon reflection. Ross wrote,

That an act, qua fulfilling a promise, or qua effecting a just distribution of good … is prima facie right, is self-evident; not in the sense that it is evident … as soon as we attend to the proposition for the first time, but in the sense that when we have reached sufficient mental maturity and have given sufficient attention to the proposition it is evident without any need of proof, or of evidence beyond itself. It is evident just as a mathematical axiom, or the validity of a form of inference, is evident…. In our confidence that these propositions are true there is involved the same confidence in our reason that is involved in our confidence in mathematics…. In both cases we are dealing with propositions that cannot be proved, but that just as certainly need no proof.9

Just as some people are better perceivers than others, so the moral intuitions of more reflective people count for more in evaluating our moral judgments. “The moral convictions of thoughtful and well-educated people are the data of ethics, just as sense-perceptions are the data of a natural science.”10

The second component of his theory is that our intuitive duties constitute a plural set that cannot be unified under a single overarching principle (such as Kant’s categorical imperative or the utilitarian highest principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number”). As such, Ross echoes the intuitionism of Pufendorf by presenting a list of several duties, specifically these seven:

1. Promise keeping

2. Fidelity

3. Gratitude for favors

4. Beneficence

5. Justice

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6. Self-improvement

7. Nonmaleficence

The third component of Ross’s theory is that our intuitive duties are not absolute; every principle can be overridden by another in a particular situation. He makes this point with the distinction between prima facie duties and actual duties. The term prima facie is Latin for “at first glance,” and, according to Ross, all seven of the above-listed moral duties are tentatively binding on us until one duty conflicts with another. When that happens, the weaker one dis- appears, and the stronger one emerges as our actual duty. Thus, although prima facie duties are not actual duties, they may become such, depending on the cir- cumstances. For example, if we make a promise, we put ourselves in a situation in which the duty to keep promises is a moral consideration. It has presumptive force, and if no conflicting prima facie duty is relevant, then the duty to keep our promises automatically becomes an actual duty.

What, for Ross, happens when two duties conflict? For an absolutist, an ade- quate moral system can never produce moral conflict, nor can a basic moral prin- ciple be overridden by another moral principle. But Ross is no absolutist. He allows for the overridability of principles. For example, suppose you have prom- ised your friend that you will help her with her homework at 3 p.m. While you are on your way to meet her, you encounter a lost, crying child. There is no one else around to help the little boy, so you help him find his way home. But, in doing so, you miss your appointment. Have you done the morally right thing? Have you broken your promise?

It is possible to construe this situation as constituting a conflict between two moral principles:

1. We ought always to keep our promises.

2. We ought always to help people in need when it is not unreasonably inconvenient to do so.

In helping the child get home, you have decided that the second principle overrides the first. This does not mean that the first is not a valid principle—only that the “ought” in it is not an absolute “ought.” The principle has objective valid- ity, but it is not always decisive, depending on which other principles may apply to the situation. Although some duties are weightier than others—for example, non- maleficence “is apprehended as a duty of a more stringent character… than benefi- cence”—the intuition must decide each situation on its own merits.

Kant and the Prima Facie Solution

Many moral philosophers—egoists, utilitarians, and deontologists—have adopted the prima facie component of Ross’s theory as a convenient way of resolving moral dilemmas. In doing so, they typically do not adopt Ross’s account of moral intuitions or his specific set of seven duties (that is, the first two compo- nents of Ross’s theory). Rather, they just incorporate Ross’s concepts of prima facie duty and actual duty as a mechanism for explaining how one duty might override another.

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How might this approach work with Kant? Consider again Kant’s innocent man example. First, we have the principle L: “Never lie.” Next, we ask whether any other principle is relevant in this situation and discover that that is principle P: “Always protect innocent life.” But we cannot obey both L and P (we assume for the moment that silence will be a giveaway). We have two general principles; neither of them is to be seen as absolute or nonoverridable but rather as prima facie. We have to decide which of the two overrides the other, which has greater moral force. This is left up to our considered judgment (or the considered judg- ment of the reflective moral community). Presumably, we will opt for P over L, meaning that lying to the gangsters becomes our actual duty.

Will this maneuver save the Kantian system? Well, it changes it in a way that Kant might not have liked, but it seems to make sense: It transforms Kant’s abso- lutism into a modest objectivist system (as described in Chapter 3). But now we need to have a separate criterion to resolve the conflict between two competing prima facie principles. For Ross, moral intuitions performed that function. Since Kant is more of a rational intuitionist, it would be the task of reason to perform that function. Perhaps his second formulation of the categorical imperative—the principle of ends—might be of service here. For example, in the illustration of the inquiring killer, the agent is caught between two compelling prima facie duties: “Never lie” and “Always protect innocent life.” When determining his actual duty, the agent might reflect on which of these two duties best promotes the treatment of people as ends—that is, beings with intrinsic value. This now becomes a contest between the dignity of the would-be killer who deserves to hear the truth and the dignity of the would-be victim who deserves to live. In this case, the dignity of the would-be victim is the more compelling value, and the agent’s actual duty would be to always protect innocent life. Thus, the agent should lie to protect the life of the would-be victim.

CONCLUS ION: A RECONC IL IAT ION PROJECT

Utilitarianism and deontological systems such as Kant’s are radically different types of moral theories. Some people seem to gravitate to the one and some to the other, but many people find themselves dissatisfied with both positions. Although they see something valid in each type of theory, at the same time there is something deeply troubling about each. Utilitarianism seems to catch the spirit of the purpose of morality, such as human flourishing and the reduction of suffering, but undercuts justice in a way that is counterintuitive. Deontological systems seem right in their emphasis on the importance of rules and the principle of justice, but tend to become rigid or to lose focus on the central purposes of morality.

One philosopher, William Frankena, has attempted to reduce this tension by reconciling the two types of theories in an interesting way. He calls his position “mixed deontological ethics” because it is basically rule centered but in such a way as to take account of the teleological aspect of utilitarianism.11 Utilitarians are right about the purpose of morality: All moral action involves doing good or

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alleviating evil. However, utilitarians are wrong to think that they can measure these amounts or that they are always obligated to bring about the “greatest bal- ance of good over evil,” as articulated by the principle of utility.

In place of the principle of utility, Frankena puts forth a near relative, the principle of beneficence, which calls on us to strive to do good without demanding that we be able to measure or weigh good and evil. Under his principle of beneficence, he lists four hierarchically arranged subprinciples:

1. One ought not to inflict evil or harm.

2. One ought to prevent evil or harm.

3. One ought to remove evil.

4. One ought to do or promote good.

In some sense, subprinciple 1 takes precedence over 2, 2 over 3, and 3 over 4, other things being equal.

The principle of justice is the second principle in Frankena’s system. It involves treating every person with equal respect because that is what each is due. To quote John Rawls, “Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override…. The rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.”12 There is always a presumption of equal treatment unless a strong case can be made for overriding this principle. So even though both the principle of beneficence and the principle of justice are prima facie principles, the principle of justice enjoys a certain priority. All other duties can be derived from these two fundamental principles.

Of course, the problem with this kind of two-principle system is that we have no clear method for deciding between them in cases of moral conflict. In such cases, Frankena opts for an intuitionist approach similar to Ross’s: We need to use our intuition whenever the two rules conflict in such a way as to leave us undecided on whether beneficence should override justice. Perhaps we cannot decisively solve every moral problem, but we can solve most of our problems successfully and make progress toward refining our subprinciples in a way that will allow us to reduce progressively the undecidable areas. At least, we have improved on strict deontological ethics by outlining a system that takes into account our intuitions in deciding complex moral issues.

NOTES

1. Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics, trans. T. K. Abbott (London: Longman’s, 1909).

2. Joseph Butler, Fifteen Sermons (1726), Sermon 3.

3. Samuel Pufendorf, On the Duty of Man and Citizen (1673), Ch. 3, adapted from The Whole Duty of Man According to the Law of Nature (London: Charles Harper, 1691).

4. Kant, Foundations, Sec. 1.

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5. Christine Korsgaard, “Kant’s Formula of Universal Law,” Pacific Philosophical Quar- terly 66 (1985): pp. 24–47.

6. Kant, Foundations, Sec. 2.

7. Fred Feldman, Introductory Ethics (Upper Saddle, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1978), pp. 114–115.

8. Immanuel Kant, “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives” (1797), in Immanuel Kant: Critique of Practical Reason and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, ed. Lewis Beck White (New York: Garland Press, 1976).

9. William D. Ross, The Right and the Good (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930), pp. 39–41.

10. Ibid., p. 21.

11. William Frankena, Ethics, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1973), pp. 43–53.

12. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 3.

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Why does Kant believe that the good will is the only thing that is good without qualification? Do you agree with him?

2. Do you think that the Kantian argument that combines the principle of natural law with the principle of ends is successful?

3. Critics of Kant charge that he is too rigid in his absolutism and rejection of happiness as a motive for morality. Critics suggest that many people use the idea of moral duty to keep themselves and others from enjoying life and showing mercy. Do you think that there is a basis for this criticism?

4. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., opposed Kant’s principle of the end on the grounds that it runs contrary to how we treat enemy soldiers: “The enemy we treat not even as a means but as an obstacle to be abolished, if so it may be. I feel no pangs of conscience over either step, and naturally am slow to accept a theory that seems to be contradicted by practices that I approve” [Collected Legal Papers (Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1920), p. 340]. Eval- uate Holmes’s argument.

5. Examine the Galactican superrational counterexample. Would superrational beings be justified in treating us as we treat animals, even eating us?

6. Would a Kantian condemn the Milgram experiments as treating individuals merely as means rather than as ends in themselves? Do you think that the information derived from the experiments justified the experiments?

7. Evaluate Frankena’s reconciliation project. How plausible is his attempt to reduce morality to two fundamental intuitions? Can you exercise moral reasoning without appeal to intuitions at some point in your deliberations? Explain your answer.

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9

Virtue Theory

J ohn hears that 100,000 people are starving in Ethiopia. He feels sorrow aboutthis and sends $100 of his hard-earned money to a famine relief project in that country. Joan hears the same news but doesn’t feel anything. However, out of a sense of duty, she sends $100 of her hard-earned money to the same famine relief project. Consider another example. Jack and Jill each have the opportunity to embezzle $1 million from the bank at which they work. Jill never even considers embezzling; the possibility is not an option for her. Jack wrestles valiantly with the temptation, almost succumbs to it, but through a grand effort of will finally succeeds in resisting the temptation.

Who, if anyone, in each of these cases is more moral? We’d most likely say that it’s John and Jill for the simple reason that they’ve internalized their moral convictions and do the right thing spontaneously without having to reflect on and struggle over the situation. In a word, John and Jill have special moral quali- ties that we call virtues: trained behavioral dispositions that result in habitual acts of moral goodness. The opposite mental quality is that of a vice: trained behav- ioral dispositions that result in habitual acts of moral wrongness. An entire ethical system called virtue theory, or virtue ethics, is based on this notion, the cen- tral theme of which is that morality involves producing excellent persons, who act well out of spontaneous goodness and serve as examples to inspire others. John and Jill, for example, are the morally good persons because of their good character that enables them to spontaneously do the right thing. There is a tele- ological (that is, “goal-oriented”) aspect in virtue ethics, but it differs from the kind usually found in utilitarianism, which asks what sort of action will maximize happiness or utility. The virtue-based concept of teleology focuses, rather, on the goal of life: living well and achieving excellence.

135

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According to virtue theorists, the ideal moral person should accumulate a range of virtues; the Greek philosopher Plato offered a short list that has been dubbed cardinal virtues—meaning “main virtues.” They are wisdom, temper- ance, courage, and justice. Another brief list, given in the New Testament by Paul, is faith, hope, and charity; these have been called the theological virtues. For centuries, the combined list of cardinal and theological virtues held a promi- nent place in Western civilization’s moral theories. We also find a strong empha- sis on virtues in the moral traditions of the East. Hinduism advocates the virtues of nonviolence, truth, purity, and self-control. Confucius stated that perfect vir- tue consists of the five qualities of courtesy, generosity, honesty, persistence, and kindness. Although these lists may differ somewhat in tone, they all stress fixing behavioral habits that restrain one’s desires and express kindness toward others.

We examine virtue ethics in this chapter, beginning with a general account of the theory itself. Then we’ll look at the battle that has recently emerged between virtue ethics and its rival theories.

THE NATURE OF V IRTUE ETH ICS

Virtue ethics says that it is important not only to do the right thing but also to have the proper dispositions, motivations, and emotions in being good and doing right. It is important that normally we are not even tempted to steal, lie, or cheat and that normally we enjoy doing good because we are good. Virtue ethics is not only about action but about emotions, character, and moral habit. It calls us to aspire to be an ideal person.

Virtues are excellences of character, trained behavioral dispositions that result in habitual acts. Traditionally, they have been divided into two types: moral and nonmoral virtues:

■ Moral virtues: honesty, benevolence, nonmalevolence, fairness, kindness, conscientiousness, gratitude

■ Nonmoral virtues: courage, optimism, rationality, self-control, patience, endurance, industry, musical talent, cleanliness, wit

The exact classification of various virtues is debatable. Courage sometimes falls into the moral category, and virtues such as kindness (as opposed to impartial benevolence) might fit into either category. The moral virtues are more closely associated with what has been deemed essential for the moral life and incompat- ible with the immoral life. One reason is that the nonmoral virtues can easily be used for immoral purposes—for example, the courageous criminal who is more dangerous than the cowardly one. But even here, many of the moral virtues can also be used for bad purposes—for example, the benevolent person who has an inclination for making things worse though meddling.

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Although most virtue systems recognize that there are principles of action that serve as action guides (at least as rules of thumb), these entities are not the essence of morality. Likewise, even though it is sometimes appropriate to reason about what to do, such reasoning or deliberating should also give significant attention to feelings such as sympathy and loyalty. The primary focus is not on abstract reason but on types of good persons. Discovering and imitating the proper moral example thus replaces meticulous reasoning as the most significant aspects of the moral life. Eventually, the apprentice-like training in virtue gained by imitating the ideal model results in a virtuous person who spontaneously does what is good. There are two different ways this comes into focus: either through an examination of ideal types of persons or through following someone who is an ideal type. Let’s examine each of these in turn.

The Ideal Type: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

In Aristotle’s classic work on the virtues, Nicomachean Ethics, he argues that our aim in life is to achieve a state of well-being, or the good life (eudaimonia, the Greek word for “happiness” or “human flourishing”). But our well-being is intertwined with living well in communities, and for that proper social institu- tions are necessary. Thus, the moral person cannot really exist apart from a flour- ishing political setting that enables him or her to develop the required virtues for the good life. For this reason, ethics is considered a branch of politics. The state is not neutral toward the good life but should actively encourage citizens to teach the virtues, which in turn are the best guarantee of a flourishing political order.

For Aristotle, humanity has an essence, or function. Just as it is the function of a doctor to cure the sick and restore health, the function of a ruler to govern society well, and the function of a knife to cut well, so it is the function of humans to use reason in pursuit of the good life. The virtues indicate the kind of moral–political characteristics necessary for people to attain happiness.

After locating ethics as a part of politics, Aristotle explains that the moral virtues are different from the intellectual ones. Whereas the intellectual virtues may be taught directly, the moral ones must be lived to be learned. By living well, we acquire the right habits; these habits are in fact the virtues. The virtues are to be sought as the best guarantee to the happy life. But, again, happiness requires that we be lucky enough to live in a flourishing state. The morally virtuous life consists in living in moderation, according to the Golden Mean. By the Golden Mean, Aristotle means that the virtues are at a middle ground between excess and defi- ciency. For example, courage is the mean between cowardice and fool-hardiness; liberality is the mean between stinginess and unrestrained giving. He writes,

We can experience fear, confidence, desire, anger, pity, and generally any kind of pleasure and pain either too much or too little, and in either case not properly. But to experience all this at the right time, toward the right objects, toward the right people, for the right reason, and in the right manner—that is the mean and the best course, the course that is the mark of virtue.1

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Aristotle held an elitist view that people have unequal abilities to be virtuous: Some are naturally gifted with great ability, but others lack it altogether and may even be born to be slaves. External circumstances could prevent even those capable of developing moral dispositions from reaching the goal of happiness. The moral vir- tues are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for happiness. One must, in addi- tion to being virtuous, be healthy, wealthy, wise, and have good fortune.

What seems so remarkable to contemporary ethicists is that Aristotle hardly mentions moral rules or principles. It wasn’t that he thought them unnecessary; they are implied in what he says. For example, his condemnation of adultery may be read as a principle (“Do not commit adultery”). Aristotle seems to think that such activities are inherently and obviously bad so that it is laboring the point to speak of a rule against adultery or against killing innocent persons. What is emphasized in place of principles is the importance of a good upbring- ing, good habits, self-control, courage, and character, without which the ethical life is impossible. A person of moral excellence cannot help doing good—it is as natural as the change of seasons or the rotation of the planets.

The Ideal Individual

In 1941 FatherMaximilian Kolbe, a Polish friar fromWarsaw, was arrested for pub- lishing anti-Nazi pamphlets and sentenced to Auschwitz. There he was beaten, kicked by shiny leather boots, and whipped by his prison guards. After one prisoner successfully escaped, the prescribed punishment was to select ten other prisoners who were to die by starvation. As ten prisoners were pulled out of line one by one, Fr. Kolbe broke out from the ranks, pleading with the commandant to be allowed to take the place of one of the prisoners, a Polish worker with a wife and children dependent upon him. “I’m an old man, sir, and good for nothing. My life will serve no purpose,” the 45-year-old priest pleaded. Hewas taken, thrown down the stairs into a dank dark basement with the other nine prisoners, and left to starve. Usually, prisoners punished like this spent their last days howling, attacking each other, and clawing the walls in a frenzy of despair.

But this time, a seeming miracle was heard coming from the death chamber: “[T]hose outside heard the faint sounds of singing. For this time the prisoners had a shepherd to gently lead them through the shadows of the valley of death, pointing them to the Great Shepherd.” The Nazi guards were utterly astounded to see the men they were killing by starvation, at peace with themselves, quietly singing hymns just before they died. To keep one’s heart and head in love and courage, in the midst of horror and degradation—not letting oneself become degraded but answering hate with love—that is a miracle of moral heroism. A few weeks later, several SS troopers, along with a doctor and a prisoner who survived to report the incident, entered the basement to remove the bodies. In the light of their flashlight, they saw Fr. Kolbe, a living skeleton, propped against the wall. His head was inclined a bit to the left. He had a smile on his lips and his eyes were wide open with a faraway gaze, as if seeing something invisible to the SS troopers. The doctor injected a poison-filled needle into Fr. Kolbe’s arm, and in a moment he was dead. He was starved to death by the Nazis—but not before he had aided the other starving prisoners in facing their own deaths.2

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Most of us learn by watching others and imitating them; this is a character- istic of virtue ethics. Rules cut up moral reality in fragmented and unnatural ways, but lives exhibit appropriate attitudes and dispositions in a holistic fashion. The lives of Socrates, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Fr. Kolbe provide examples of possibilities of moral excellence and inspire us to become ideal types. To put it poetically, they are people who light up our moral landscape as jewels who shine in their own light. Albert Schweitzer, who with four PhDs and a promising medical and musical career in Europe, renounced fame and fortune to open up a medical clinic at his own expense in Lambarine, French West Africa, and developed the concept of reverence for life.

Perhaps no figure has served as an example for more people in Western culture than Jesus. An example of how his image has helped form the moral conscience of individuals is related by Paul Levy:

The habit of examining one’s conscience by asking oneself “What would Jesus do?” is conducive to the frame of mind required to enable one to ask oneself “What is the right (or the good) thing to do?” And it is only a short step from asking oneself what Jesus would do, to the realization that one is not asking an historical question such as “What in fact did Jesus do?,” but a question that means “What would Jesus have done in these circumstances?” In the end … he is appealing to the idea of Jesus as a perfectly moral human being to give him ethical standards.3

The saints and moral heroes are the salts by which the world is preserved. In an influential article, “Moral Saints,” philosopher Susan Wolf argues that

moral saints are unattractive because they lack the “ability to enjoy the enjoyable in life” and are so “very, very nice” that they must be “dull-witted or humorless or bland.” Their lives are “strangely barren.”4 But is this true? Are the lives of the above-listed people “dull-witted or humorless or bland”? One may doubt it. There is nothing “strangely barren” about Jesus’ embodying the spirit of love, putting high altruism to practice as never before seen, accepting the pariahs of society, and bringing out their innate dignity. So too with Gandhi’s fearlessly confronting the British Empire in the name of justice, his “quiet and determined voice” saying to the Indian people, “Be not afraid,” and giving them courage. Consider also Martin Luther King, Jr., standing quietly and courageously praying for his enemies while they are about to unleash police dogs on him and his followers. And then there are those incredible, often unnamed, prisoners of Auschwitz who shared their food and precious possessions and who refused to be dehumanized by Nazi barbarities. So too with Mother Teresa, who spent her days healing the wounds and saving the lives of the disease-ridden homeless in the stench-filled slums of Calcutta. These are people who have reached a deeper way of living, who embody the Good in ways that far surpass our ordinary expressions of morality, as the sun’s light outshines that of a flickering candle.

Wolf says the saints are boring when compared to such “interesting” and “attractive” people as Hollywood’s most fashionable stars. But perhaps what we find interesting or boring is more a function of our moral education and devel- opment or appreciation than it is attributable to any saints or moral heroes.

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Perhaps it is not their fault if we do not see their inherent beauty? As one of the most saintly heroes of the twentieth century, Albert Schweitzer seems to have possessed those aesthetic qualities that Wolf finds lacking in moral saints. And yet, even if they may on average lack aesthetic talents, these saints and moral heroes do more than merely inspire our admiration. In them, we have living proof that a higher way of life is available to each of us. They shame us for being satisfied with our moral mediocrity. They challenge us to aspire to moral heights. The lesson of the exemplars is “If these humans can overcome tempta- tion and live a deeply moral life, then so can I.”

There is a further reason for affirming the value of moral saints. If we com- pare the actions of moral saints with the behavior of the 39 witnesses to Kitty Genovese’s brutal murder in Queens in 1964 (see Chapter 1), we can see why it is good for society to have a proportionate number of highly virtuous people in it to enhance the quality of life. Moral agents who go beyond minimal moral- ity are necessary for a society if it is to overcome evil and produce a high degree of flourishing. Shouldn’t we all be more altruistic than we are?

CR IT IC ISMS OF ACT ION-BASED ETH ICS

Historically, virtue theory was a dominant player in moral philosophy for 2,000 years, and philosophers who followed Aristotle made virtues the center- piece of their systems. But even non-Aristotelian philosophers gave virtue a prominent role, a good example being Thomas Hobbes. For Hobbes, morality emerges through a series of social agreements that we make with each other as we attempt to leave a state of war and enter one of peace. We agree to keep our contracts, show gratitude toward others, be sociable, avoid signs of hatred toward others, compromise on our differences, and several other rules that ensure peace. But the main job of moral philosophy, Hobbes argues, is to teach people the virtues that will enable us to spontaneously follow these specific rules, such as the virtues of justice, gratitude, and sociability. We should also shun vices that will prevent us from acting on these rules, such as the vices of injustice, pride, and arrogance. Virtues, for Hobbes, are essential for keeping the peace.

But attitudes toward virtue theory began to change in the eighteenth cen- tury with the coming of utilitarianism and Kantianism. Utilitarian philosophers, particularly Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, argued that what matters in morality are the pleasing or painful consequences of our actions; virtues play no role in making such assessments. Mill makes this point here:

[N]o known ethical standard decides an action to be good or bad because it is done by a good or a bad man, still less because done by an amiable, a brave, or a benevolent man, or the contrary. These consid- erations are relevant, not to the estimation of actions, but of persons.5

For Kant, the core of morality is one’s duty to follow the moral law as we rationally discover it through the categorical imperative. Just because you have a

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virtue, Kant argues, doesn’t mean that you’ll follow the moral law. A successful villain, for example, has the virtue of being coolheaded, though he clearly is not doing his moral duty.

As utilitarianism and Kantian deontology emerged as the dominant ethical theories of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many theorists simply ignored virtue theory as being irrelevant to the new science of ethics. In recent decades, though, virtue ethics has reemerged as a major ethical theory, largely because of dissatisfaction with both utilitarian and Kantian moral theories.

In essence, then, there are two general approaches to moral theories: an action-based approach advocated by utilitarian and deontological philosophers, and a virtue-based approach defended by virtue theorists. In their most extreme forms, here are their principal differences:

■ Virtue-based theory: (1) We should acquire good character traits, not simply act according to moral rules; (2) morality involves being a virtuous person.

■ Action-based theory: (1) We should act properly by following moral rules; (2) we judge people based on how they act, not on whether they are virtuous people.

Virtue-based ethics centers in the heart of the agent—in his or her character— and emphasizes being rather than merely doing. The crucial moral question for this approach is “What sort of person should I become?” Virtue-based systems are sometimes called aretaic ethics (from the Greek arete, which we translate as “excel- lence” or “virtue”). By contrast, action-based theories emphasize the need to act according to moral rules, such as the utilitarian principle or the categorical imperative, and the central moral question for this approach is “What should I do?” These theories are sometimes referred to as rule-governed because of their emphasis on acting according to rules, or deontic (a term that incorporates both utilitarian and deontological reliance on action-guiding rules).

Our next task is to examine the views of recent virtue theorists and what they think is lacking in the action-based moral theories of utilitarianism and Kantianism.

Action-Based Ethics Lack a Motivational Component

Contemporary virtue theorists claim that action-based ethics are uninspiring, even boring—and largely negative. They fail to motivate or inspire to action. Ethics becomes a sort of mental plumbing, moral quibbling, a set of hairsplitting distinctions that somehow loses track of the purpose of morality altogether. But what good are such rules without the dynamo of character that propels the rules to action?

That deontological systems may be uninspiring is illustrated by their largely negative nature. Most of the commandments and rules in such systems are inher- ently negative: “Thou shall not—!” As Mill complained about the so-called Christian morality of the Victorian Age,

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Christian morality (so-called) has all the characters of a reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive, passive rather than active; Innocence rather than Nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than energetic Pursuit of the Good; in its precepts “Thou shalt not” predominates unduly over “Thou shalt.” Whatever exists of magnanimity, highmindedness, personal dignity, even the sense of honor, is derived from the purely human, not the religious part of our education, and never could have grown out of a standard of ethics in which the only worth, professedly recognized, is that of obedience.6

There is something unsatisfactory about a morality that is so disproportion- ately defined in terms of “Thou shall nots,” stressing innocence rather than an “energetic Pursuit of the Good.” Deontological systems focus on an egoistic, minimal morality whose basic principles seem to be more preventive than posi- tive. The only sure principle is a reciprocal duty to do no harm. This sort of theory places a very low value on morality, judging it primarily as a necessary evil. The virtue theorist rejects this judgment, seeing morality as an intrinsically worthwhile activity.

Action-Based Ethics Are Founded on an Obsolete

Theological–Legal Model

In 1958 Cambridge University philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe published a watershed article, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” in which she argued that “it is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy” until we have an ade- quate philosophical psychology, and that our concepts of moral obligation and moral duty are derived from a theological–legal tradition that is no longer the dominant worldview.7 Let’s elaborate Anscombe’s argument.

Moral language in traditional schemes usually has a structure that resembles that of law. Typically, the notions of right and wrong occur within the structure of a legal context in which there is a clear authority. Traditional, natural law ethics used this model with integrity because it saw moral principles as analogous to law and God as analogous to the sovereign ruler. Now, however, ethics has been detached from its theological anchor. It has become an autonomous activity, leav- ing the legal model without an analogue so that it is now an incoherent metaphor. The virtue ethicist rejects this model. Rather than spend time on moral hairsplitting and puzzle solving, ethics should help us develop admirable characters that will gen- erate the kinds of insights needed for the requirements of life.

In this regard, the legalistic approach in modern moral theory has the effect of undermining the spirit of morality: “Morality was made for man, not man for morality.” Rules often get in the way of kindness and spontaneous generosity. An illustration of this is the following passage from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck sees that his duty is to obey the law and turn in his black friend, the runaway slave Jim. Huck’s principles tell him to report Jim to the authorities:

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Conscience says to me: “What had poor Miss Watson done to you, that you could see her nigger go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you, that you could treat her so mean?” I got to feeling so mean and miserable I most wished I was dead.… My conscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it: “Let up on me—it ain’t too late, yet—I’ll paddle ashore at first light and tell.” (Ch. 16)

Huck intends to report Jim and soon has the opportunity when two slave hunters ask him whether the man on his raft is black. But something in his char- acter prevents Huck from turning Jim in. Virtue ethicists point out that Huck does the right thing because of his character, not because of his principles, and that sometimes, at least, our moral principles actually conflict with a deeper moral action that arises out of character.

Action-Based Ethics Ignore the Spontaneous

Dimension of Ethics

Virtue theorists also charge that action-based ethics reduce all moral assessments to judgments about actions. By doing so, action-based ethics neglect the sponta- neous aspect of moral conduct that emerges from a person’s ingrained qualities of gratitude, self-respect, sympathy, having one’s emotions in proper order, and aspiring to become a certain kind of person.

Consider the case of Jack and Jill mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. Both have the opportunity to embezzle. For Jack, it is a strenuous effort of the will that enables him to resist the temptation to embezzle, whereas for Jill the temptation does not even arise. She automatically rejects the fleeting thought as out of the range of her character. Now, it might be said that Jack has the impor- tant virtue of considerable strength of will but lacks the virtue of deep integrity that Jill possesses. Whereas stringent action-based ethics (such as Kant’s, which puts the emphasis on conscientiousness, or doing one’s duty for duty’s sake) would say that Jack is the only one of the two who is moral, virtue ethics would say that Jill is the superior moral being. She has something good about her character that Jack lacks.

Consider the case of John and Joan, also mentioned at the chapter’s opening. Both send money to charity, but John does it with a feeling of sorrow for the famine victims whereas Joan does it simply out of a sense of duty. The virtue ethicist would argue that John has the right moral feelings whereas Joan is merely a cold, calculating moral machine who lacks the appropriate warmth of judg- ment toward the starving.

Virtue ethicists often cite Kant’s theory as a model of an antivirtue ethic. They point out that an examination of Kant’s extreme action-based approach highlights the need for a virtue alternative. For Kant, natural goodness is morally irrelevant. The fact that you actually want to help someone (because you like them or just like doing good deeds) is of no moral importance. In fact, because of the emphasis put on the good will (doing duty for duty’s sake), it seems that

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Kant’s logic would force him to conclude that you are actually moral in propor- tion to the amount of temptation that you have to resist in performing your duty: For little temptation, you receive little moral credit; if you experience great temptation, you receive great moral credit for overcoming it.

To virtue ethicists, this is preposterous. Taken to its logical conclusion, the homicidal maniac who always just barely succeeds in resisting his perpetual temptation to kill is actually the most glorious saint, surpassing the “natural saint” who does good just because of a good character. True goodness is to spon- taneously, cheerfully, and enjoyably do what is good. As Aristotle said,

We may even go so far as to state that the man who does not enjoy performing noble actions is not a good man at all. Nobody would call a man just who does not enjoy acting justly, nor generous who does not enjoy generous actions, and so on.8

It is not the hounded neurotic who barely manages to control himself before each passing temptation but the natural saint—the one who does good out of habit and from the inner resources of good character—who is the morally super- ior person.

Action-Based Ethics Are Minimalist and Neglect the

Development of Character

David L. Norton has argued for a fundamental distinction between traditional action-based ethics and classical virtue ethics.9 Traditional action-based ethics tends to be minimalist, calling on us to adhere to a core of necessary rules (for example, do not steal, harm, murder, or lie) for society to function. The accent is on social control: Morality is largely preventive, safeguarding rights and moral space where people may carry out their projects unhindered by the intrusions of others. Daniel Callahan characterizes such a moral minimalist ethic this way:

It has been one that stressed the transcendence of the individual over the community, the need to tolerate all moral viewpoints, the autonomy of the self as the highest human good, the informed consent contract as the model of human relationships. We are obliged under the most generous reading of a minimalist ethic only to honor our voluntarily undertaken family obligations, to keep our promises, and to respect contracts freely entered into with other freely consenting adults. Beyond those minimal standards, we are free to do as we like, guided by nothing other than our private standards of good and evil.10

However, according to Norton, classical virtue ethics, going back to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, presupposes two theses that go well beyond mini- malist ethics. First, there is no separate moral-free zone, and prudence cannot be separated from morality, at least not to the extent that minimalism separates it. The Good is good for you. Second, virtue ethics supposes a duty of moral devel- opment or growth so that, while not everyone is called on to be a saint or hero,

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if we develop properly we may all develop moral sensitivities and abilities in ways that approximate those of the saints and heroes. A hero is one who accom- plishes good deeds when the average person would be prevented by fear, terror, or a drive of self-interest. A saint is one who acts for good when inclination, desire, or self-interest would prevent most people from so acting.

The crucial factor in virtue-based ethics is the duty to grow as a moral person so that one may be able to take on greater moral responsibility. With increased responsibility comes increased competence in making moral choices and increased exhilaration at scaling moral mountain peaks. Norton has identified a crucial problem in contemporary moral theory: It is not enough to get people to adhere to a minimal morality. We must come to realize that we have a duty to not only obey core moral rules but also a responsibility to develop our moral sensitivities and abilities to the point where we can live life on a higher moral plane, both enjoying the exhilaration of high and challenging places and bearing burdens unknown to fledglings in moral climbing.

If this argument is correct, moral learning never stops, and moral education from childhood onward is one of the most important things we can engage in, both for society’s sake (for it is in our interest to have deeply moral citizens) and for our own sake (it is in our interest to be deeply moral people).

Action-Based Ethics Overemphasize Autonomy

and Neglect Community

In his book After Virtue (1981), Alasdair MacIntyre argues that rule-governed ethics is a symptom of the Enlightenment, which exaggerated the principle of autonomy—that is, the ability of each person to arrive at a moral code by reason alone. However, MacIntyre maintains, all moral codes are rooted in practices that themselves are rooted in traditions or forms of life. We do not make moral decisions as rational atoms in a vacuum, and it is sheer ideological blindness that allows this distorted perception. MacIntyre does not want to embrace relativism. We can discover better ways of living, but they will probably be founded on an account of what the good life is and what a good community is.

It is in communities that such virtues as loyalty, natural affection, spontane- ous sympathy, and shared concerns arise and sustain the group. It is out of this primary loyalty (to family, friends, and community) that the proper dispositions arise that flow out to the rest of humanity. Hence, moral psychology is more important than traditional ethics has usually recognized. Seeing how people actu- ally learn to be moral and how they are inspired to act morally is vital to moral theory itself, and this, it seems, has everything to do with the virtues.

In sum, action-based systems are uninspiring and unmotivating, negative, improperly legalistic, neglectful of the spiritual dimension, overly rationalistic, and atomistic. Against this background of dissatisfaction with traditional moral theory, virtue ethics has reasserted itself as offering something that captures the essence of the moral point of view.

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CONNECT IONS BETWEEN VIRTUE -BASED AND

ACT ION-BASED ETH ICS

So far we’ve seen the tension that exists between virtue-based and action-based ethics. Which approach is right, if either? Can the two be reconciled with each other? There are three basic relationships that might exist between virtues and moral rules, and all of them are positions held today by various philosophers. In this section and the following, we examine these positions. Briefly, here are the three relationships:

1. Pure virtue-based ethics. The virtues are dominant and have intrinsic value. Moral rules or duties are derived from the virtues. For example, if we claim that we have a duty to be just or beneficent, we must discover the virtues of fairness and benevolence in the good person.

2. The standard action-based view. Action-guiding principles are the essence of morality. The virtues are derived from the principles and are instrumental in performing right actions. For each virtue, there is a corresponding principle that is the important aspect of the relationship.

3. Complementarity (pluralistic) ethics. Both action-based and virtue-based models are necessary for an adequate or complete system. Neither the virtues nor rules are primary; they complement each other, and both may have intrinsic value.

Let’s look at each in more detail.

Pure Virtue-Based Ethics

The pure virtue-based view assigns the strongest moral weight to virtues; the moral rules that we have are just extracted from and reflect our virtues. But this approach faces serious challenges. Even though the formula for pure virtue- based ethics sometimes accurately describes how a moral act is generated (that is, we sometimes act spontaneously out of a good heart), it hardly seems to cover all ethical actions. Sometimes we do use rules and moral reasons to decide what to do. The question is whether these rules are really irrelevant to what morality is getting at. As of now, no one has worked out a complete, pure virtue-based account, so it is hard to know whether it can be done. It seems to suffer from two major types of problems: epistemological and practical.

The epistemological problem concerns how we know which habits and emo- tions constitute genuine virtues. Who is the virtuous person? Suppose you ask me, “What is the right thing to do?” I answer, “Do what the virtuous person would do!” But you counter, “Who is the virtuous person?” To which I reply, “The person who does the right thing.” The reasoning is circular. Without prin- ciples, virtues lack direction; we need something to serve as a criterion for them.

Related to this epistemological problem is the problem of virtue relativism: What counts as a virtue changes over time and place. Whereas Aristotle valued pride as a special virtue, Christians see it as a master vice. An ancient caveman

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facing a herd of mastodons with a spear would be thought by his community to have “excessive” fear if he abandoned his fellow tribesmen and fled, whereas contemporary society would make no such judgment. Capitalists view acquisi- tiveness as a virtue, whereas Marxists see it as a vice.

The practical problem with pure virtue-based ethics is it provides no guidance on how to resolve an ethical dilemma. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, precious little is said about what we are supposed to do. One would think that ethics should be, at least to some extent, action guiding. Aristotle’s answer seems to be “Do what a good person would do.” But these questions arise: “Who is the good person? How will we recognize him or her?” Furthermore, even if we could answer those questions without reference to kinds of actions or principles addressed by nonvirtue-oriented ethicists, it is not always clear what ideal persons would do in our situations. Sometimes Aristotle writes as though the right action is that intermediate mean, or Golden Mean, between two extremes. The virtue of courage, for example, is at the mean between the more vices of rashness and cowardice. However, it is often hard, if not impossible, to determine how to apply this. As J. L. Mackie says,

As guidance about what is the good life, what precisely one ought to do, or even by what standard one should try to decide what one ought to do, this is too circular to be very helpful. And though Aristotle’s account is filled out with detailed descriptions of many of the virtues, moral as well as intellectual, the air of indeterminacy persists. We learn the names of the pairs of contrary vices that contrast with each of the virtues, but very little about where or how to draw the dividing lines, where or how to fix the mean. As Sidgwick says, he “only indicates the whereabouts of virtue.”11

In sum, virtue ethics has a problem of application: It doesn’t tell us what to do in particular instances in which we most need direction.

Standard Action-Based Ethics: The Correspondence Thesis

The standard action-based view acknowledges moral virtues but gives them a secondary status. This view has three theses:12

1. The action-nature of the rules thesis. Moral rules require persons to perform or omit certain actions, and these actions can be performed by persons who lack the various virtues as well as by those who possess them. (For example, both the benevolent and those who lack benevolence can perform benefi- cent acts such as giving to charity.)

2. The reductionist thesis. The moral virtues are dispositions to obey the moral rules—that is, to perform or omit certain actions. (For example, the virtue of benevolence is a disposition to carry out the duty to perform beneficent acts.) According to the correspondence theory of virtues, each virtue corre- sponds to an appropriate moral principle.

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3. Instrumental value thesis. The moral virtues have no intrinsic value but do have instrumental and derivative value. Agents who have the virtues are more likely to do the right acts (that is, obey the rules). The virtues are important only because they motivate right action.

By the standard view, it is important to make two different but related assessments within the scope of morality: We need to make separate evaluations of the agent and the act. Both are necessary to a full ethical assessment, but it is the act that is logically prior in the relationship. Why is this?

It has to do with the nature of morality. If we agree that the general point of morality is to promote human flourishing and to reduce suffering, then we may judge that it is good or right kinds of acts that are, in the end, of utmost importance. But if we agree that there is a general tendency in human affairs for social relations to run down because of natural inclinations toward self-interest, then we can see that special forces have to be put in motion to counteract natural selfishness. One of these forces is the external sanctions produced by the law and social pressure. But a deeper and more enduring force is the creation of dispositions in people to do what is morally commendable. As Geoffrey Warnock says,

It is necessary that people should acquire, and should seek to ensure that others acquire, what may be called good dispositions, that is, some readiness on occasion voluntarily to do desirable things which not all human beings are just naturally disposed to do anyway, and similarly not to do damaging things.13

Warnock identifies four such virtues that are necessary for social well-being. Since in the competitive struggle for goods we have a natural tendency to inflict damage on others (especially those outside the circle of our sympathies), there is a need for the virtue of nonmaleficence (that is, nonharm). However, we will all do better if we are not simply disposed to leave one another alone, but instead are positively disposed to help one another whenever social cooperation is desir- able. Thus, we should cultivate the virtue of beneficence. There is also a natural tendency to discriminate in favor of our loved ones or our own interests, so we must train ourselves to be just, impartial judges who give each person his or her due: We must acquire the virtue of fairness. Finally, there is a natural temptation to deceive in our own interest; we lie, cheat, and give false impressions when it is to our advantage. This deception, however, tends to harm society at large, gen- erating suspicion, which in turn undermines trust and leads to the breakdown of social cooperation. So, we must cultivate the disposition to honesty or truthful- ness, and we must value and praise those who have the right dispositions and safeguard ourselves against those who lack these virtues.

Duty-based ethical theorists who hold to the standard account recognize the importance of character, but they claim that the nature of the virtues can only be derived from right actions or good consequences. To quote William Frankena, “Traits without principles are blind.”14 Whenever there is a virtue, there must be some possible action to which the virtue corresponds and from which it derives its virtuousness. For example, the character trait of truthfulness is a virtue because

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telling the truth, in general, is a moral duty. Likewise, conscientiousness is a vir- tue because we have a general duty to be morally sensitive. There is a correspon- dence between principles and virtues, the latter being derived from the former, as the following suggests:

The Virtue (derived from) The Principle (prima facie)

Nonmaleficence Duty not to harm

Truthfulness Duty to tell the truth

Conscientiousness Duty to be sensitive to one’s duty

Benevolence Duty to be beneficent

Faithfulness Duty to be loyal or faithful

Fairness Duty to be just

Love Duty to do what promotes another’s good

Although derived from the right kind of actions, the virtues are nonetheless very important for the moral life: They provide the dispositions that generate right action. In a sense, they are motivationally indispensable. To extend the Frankena passage quoted earlier, “Traits without principles are blind, but princi- ples without traits are impotent.” Frankena modifies this position, distinguishing two types of virtues: (1) the standard moral virtues, which correspond to specific kinds of moral principles, and (2) nonmoral virtues, such as natural kindliness or gratefulness, industry, courage, and intelligence or rationality, which are “morality-supporting.” They are sometimes called “enabling virtues” because they make it possible for us to carry out our moral duties. The relationship looks something like this:

For example, consider the situation in which you have an obligation to save a drowning child despite some risk to your own life. The specific rule of “Always come to the aid of drowning people” is grounded in a foundational principle of general beneficence, which in turn generates the foundational virtue of benevo- lence. In this case, it gives rise to a tendency to try to save the drowning child. Whether or not you actually dive into the lake, however, may depend on the enabling (nonmoral) virtue of courage. Courage itself is not a moral virtue, as are benevolence and justice, because it is the kind of virtue that enhances and augments both virtues and vices (for example, think of the courageous murderer).

The moral act

Enabling virtue (nonmoral) Specific rule Specific instance of a virtue (moral)

Foundation principles Foundation moral virtues

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Standard Action-Based Ethicist’s Responses

to Virtue-Based Criticisms

Can the correspondence theory answer the objections leveled against the action- based view earlier in this chapter? Let’s consider the kinds of initial responses available to it.

First, to the charge that it lacks an adequate motivational component, philo- sophers such as Warnock would insist that we can bring up children to prize the correct principles and to embody them in their lives. Moral psychology will help us develop the necessary virtues in such a way as to promote human flourishing.

An action-based approach can honor the virtues and use them wisely without distorting their role in life. Sophisticated action-based theories can even insist that we have a duty to obtain the virtues as the best means to achieving success in carrying out our duties and that we have a special duty to inculcate in ourselves and others the virtue of conscientiousness (the disposition to do one’s duty), which will help us achieve all our other duties. This kind of thinking shows that the story of Huck Finn’s conscience (discussed earlier) is not really a good counterexample to action- based ethics. Sometimes our character is ahead of our principles, but that has nothing to do with the essential relationship between virtues and rules.

Second, to Anscombe’s charge that action-based ethics is based on an improper theological–legal model, action-based ethicists respond that we can separate the rational decision-making procedures from the theological ones with- out violating those procedures. To the charge that this still leaves us with a skewed process of hairsplitting, they answer that it is important to come as close as possible to working out a consistent system because we want to have all the guidance for our actions that is possible. Appropriate modesty will inform us of our limits in this respect, but at least we have rules as guides—unlike the extreme virtue-based theorist, who only has dispositions.

Third, to the charge that action-based ethics neglects the spontaneous dimension of morality, the action-based ethicist responds that we can honor the virtues without restricting morality to them completely. It is better to have a virtue (such as benevolence) than not to have it because having the virtue gives us the best chance of acting rightly. However, there is no intrinsic value in the virtue. What really is important is doing the right act. This is not to deny that there may be aesthetic value in having correct attitudes or virtues besides their morally instrumental value, but we ought not to confuse ethical value with aes- thetic value. In our opening example in this chapter, there is something satisfying about John’s feeling sorrow over the starving Ethiopians, but it is an aesthetic satisfaction. Note the language describing deeply altruistic people: They are, to paraphrase Kant, “jewels who shine in their own light.” The very metaphor should signal the fact that beyond their moral worth (in the actions they per- form) we find something aesthetically attractive in their virtuous lives.

Fourth, regarding Norton’s criticism that action-based ethics are minimalist and neglect the development of character, action-based ethicists point out that moral minimalism has the advantage that it appeals to minimal common sense and so can easily be universalized; its injunctions apply to all rational agents. Its

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claims are exceedingly modest because it permits most of life to go on without the scrutiny of morality. As Mill says, “Ninety-nine hundredths of all our actions are done from other [than moral] motives, and rightly so done if the rule of duty does not condemn them.”15 The major portion of life comes not under the domain of moral obligation but under the domain of the permissible. We are given a generous portion of morally free space in which to develop our person- ality and talents as we see fit—just as long as we do not break out of the broad confines of moral constraints. The morally free zone is sometimes identified with what is prudent or what pertains to our self-interest.

Fifth and finally, to MacIntyre’s criticism that morality emerges in commu- nities and cultures, action-based ethicists respond that if this is taken as the whole story, it implies ethical relativism, in which case the virtues have no objective status either. On the other hand, if MacIntyre allows that we can discover the Good for man in the context of an Aristotelian naturalism, then we can derive a core set of principles as well as the right virtues.

Pluralistic (Complementarity) Ethics

The virtue-based ethicist will not be satisfied with the standard action-based view and its correspondence theory, because it is still reductionistic, treating the virtues like second-class citizens, like servants of the master rules. Even if virtue theorists agree that virtue-based ethics cannot stand alone, they will not accept this kind of reductionism. There must be true complementarity, a recognition of the importance of both rules and virtues in ways that do not exhaust either. Some instances of carrying out the rule may be done without a virtue, and some virtues will be prized for their own sake even without any correspondence to a moral duty. This is the view of pluralistic ethics—derived from the term plural, meaning “more than one.”

To clarify, let’s recall the three theses of the standard action-based view: (1) the action-nature of the rules thesis, (2) the reductionist thesis, and (3) the instrumental value thesis. Pluralistic ethicists, like virtue theorists, must reject all three to elevate virtues from their second-class status and put them on an equal level with moral rules. Let’s begin with the first:

1. The action-nature of the rules thesis. Moral rules require persons to perform or omit certain actions, and these actions can be performed by persons who lack the various virtues as well as by those who possess them.

Pluralistic ethicists have two problems with this thesis. First, it neglects the close causal link between virtue and action. Doing right without the requisite disposi- tion is like a person who has never before played baseball hitting a home run against a leading major-league pitcher: He may have luck this time, but he shouldn’t count on it. Likewise, without the virtues, we shouldn’t expect right conduct, even though we may occasionally be surprised both by the right act of the nonvirtuous and by the wrong act of the virtuous. Because of the close causal connection, it is statistically improbable that the good will do wrong and the bad or indifferent will do right.

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Second, the thesis fails to point out that we have moral obligations to be certain kinds of people—that is, to have the requisite dispositions and attitudes for their own sake. It specifies only rules requiring action, but there are other types of moral rules as well—those requiring virtue.

The second thesis of the standard action-based view is this:

2. The reductionist thesis. The moral virtues are dispositions to obey the moral rules— that is, to perform or omit certain actions. According to the correspondence theory of virtues, each virtue corresponds to an appropriate moral principle.

What is at issue here is whether the virtues are more than just dispositions to act— whether they include attitudes that may not involve action. Kant pointed out that love (in the passional or emotional sense) could not be a moral duty because it could not be commanded, for we have no direct control over our emotions. While the moral law may require me to give a part of my income to feed the poor, I don’t have to like them; I give my money because it is right to do so.

Pluralistic ethicists reject this kind of thinking. Although we don’t have direct control over our emotions, we do have indirect control over them. We cannot turn our dispositions on and off like water faucets, but we can take steps to instill the right dispositions and attitudes. If we recognize the appropriateness of certain emotions in certain situations, we can use meditation, sympathetic imagination, and therapy (and, if one is religious, prayer) to obtain those attitudes in the right way. We are responsible for our character. We must not only be good, but we must love the good. As Aristotle said, “There must first be a dis- position to excellence, to love what is fine and loathe what is base.”

Consider two people, Joe and Jane, whose actions are equally correct. How- ever, there is a difference between their attitudes. Joe tends to rejoice in the suc- cess of others and to feel sorrow over their mishaps. Jane, on the other hand, tends to feel glee at their mishaps and to envy their success. As long as their outward actions (and their will to do right) are similar, the action-based ethicist regards them as equally moral. But not the virtue ethicist: Joe has but Jane lacks the requisite moral attitude—and Jane has a moral duty to change that attitude.

Thomas Hill tells the story of a woman who always does what is morally right or permissible but does it out of a motive born of low self-esteem.16 She doesn’t respect herself but defers to her husband and children with an attitude of self-condemnation. Self-respect doesn’t appear to be easily dissected into separate action types, yet it seems plausible to believe that it is a virtue, one we have a duty to instill (assuming that we are intrinsically worthy as rational beings). If this is correct, then the duty to respect oneself is yet another counterexample to the second thesis.

There are reactive attitudes or emotions—such as grief, gratitude, respect, and sensitivity—that in many situations seem appropriate for their own sake, regardless of whether they can be acted upon. The standard action-based view neglects this feature of morality; it reduces morality to actions.

Here is the third and final thesis of the standard action-based position:

3. Instrumental value thesis. The moral virtues have no intrinsic value but do have instrumental and derivative value. The virtues are important only because they motivate right action.

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Again, pluralistic ethicists reject this instrumental view of the virtues: The virtues have intrinsic value and are not merely derivative but part of what constitutes the good life. The Good is not simply good for others but is good for you as well. The virtues are an inescapable part of what makes life worth living—having the right dispositions and attitudes to the right degree expressed in the right way. Joe is a better person for grieving with the suffering and rejoicing with the successful. He has an appropriate attitude whereas Jane doesn’t, and this reflects on the quality of their happiness. It is not enough to do the right thing—even to do the right thing for the right reason; it is also important to do it with the right attitude and to have the right attitude and dispositions even when no action is possible.

The difference between the standard action-based view and the pluralistic view is this: Both recognize that the promotion of human flourishing is an essen- tial goal of morality, but the action ethicist thinks that morality only has to do with the kinds of actions that produce this state of affairs, whereas the pluralistic ethicist believes that the virtues are constitutive of what human flourishing is and, hence, partly define the state of affairs we ought to be trying to produce by our actions. For the virtue ethicist, the unvirtuous (virtue-indifferent or vicious) life is not worth living.

CONCLUS ION

Virtue-based ethics poses a significant challenge to standard action-based ethical theories. It is doubtful whether the standard action-based ethicist will be satisfied with the pluralistic thesis of virtues as set forth in this chapter, but we must leave the matter here—exactly where it is in the contemporary debate. Whether the correspondence or the pluralistic thesis is the correct thesis may not be the most important question. What is important is that we recognize that principles without character are impotent and that the virtues enliven the principles and empower the moral life in general. If nothing else, virtue ethicists have been successful in draw- ing attention to the importance of the virtues. There is a consensus in moral phi- losophy that the virtues have been neglected and that it is important to work them into one’s moral perspective. On the other hand, a pure virtue ethic cannot stand alone without a strong action-based component. Principles of action are important largely in the way deontological and utilitarian accounts have said they were. The question is not whether these accounts were wrong in what they said but whether they were adequate to the complete moral life.

NOTES

1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Martin Ostwald (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962), p. 1099a.

2. C. Colson, “The Volunteer at Auschwitz,” in The Moral Life, ed. L. Pojman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

3. Paul Levy, Moore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 41.

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content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

4. Susan Wolf, “Moral Saints,” Journal of Philosophy 79, no. 8 (1982): pp. 419–439.

5. J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism (1861), Ch. 2; reprinted in Ethical Theory, ed. Louis Pojman (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011).

6. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859), Ch 2.

7. G. E. M. Anscombe, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” Philosophy 33 (1958): pp. 1–19.

8. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1099a.

9. David L. Norton, “Moral Minimalism and the Development of Moral Character,” in Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 13, ed. Peter A. French et al. (University of Minnesota Press, 1988), pp. 180–195.

10. Daniel Callahan, “Minimal Ethics: On the Pacification of Morality,” Hastings Center Report 11 (October 1981): pp. 19–25.

11. J. L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (London: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 186.

12. Adapted from Walter Schaller, “Are Virtues No More Than Dispositions to Obey Moral Rules?” Philosophia 20 (July 1990): pp. 559–573.

13. Geoffrey Warnock, The Object of Morality (London: Methuen, 1971), p. 76.

14. William Frankena, Ethics, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1973).

15. J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism (1861), Ch. 2; reprinted in Ethical Theory, ed. Louis Pojman (Belmont, NJ: Wadsworth, 2011).

16. Thomas Hill, “Servility and Self-Respect,” The Monist 57 (1973): pp. 87–104.

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Compare the action of Father Kolbe with the 38 witnesses to the beating and murder of Kitty Genovese, described at the beginning of Chapter 1. What conclusions do you draw about the importance of character or the virtues by such a comparison?

2. Examine the five criticisms of action-based ethics discussed near the outset of this chapter. How valid are they?

3. Some virtue ethicists maintain that it is not enough to habitually do the right act to be considered a virtuous person; one must also have the proper emotions. Is it morally significant not simply to do good but also to take pleasure in doing good—to enjoy it? And, conversely, is a lack of proper emotions in the right amount at the right time a sign of weak character? Explain your answers.

4. Describe the difference between pure virtue-based ethics and standard action-based ethics, and explain which of the two you think is better.

5. Examine the five standard action-based ethicist’s responses to virtue-based criticism. How valid are they?

6. Both the correspondence theory of virtues and complementarity ethics embrace virtues and rules. Which if either of these two views is the best? Explain your answer.

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10

Biology and Ethics

Amonkey was electrocuted while walking across electrical wires at a railwaystation in India. When it fell unconscious onto the tracks, a fellow monkey worked relentlessly for 20 minutes to revive it by shaking, biting, and hitting it, then dunking it into water. Eventually the injured monkey regained consciousness and the two walked away together. The entire episode was caught on video, and the compassion displayed by the assisting monkey was not only touching, but recogniz- able as the type of moral behavior that humans express toward each other. In fact, if there was a similar video of a human working desperately for 20 minutes to revive an electrocuted person, we would describe it as a heroic effort worthy of the highest moral praise, and we would expect the two to be interviewed on TV talk shows.

The story of the morally heroic monkey is not just interesting, but it raises questions about whether human morality has a foundation within biology and brain chemistry that we also share at least in part with other social animals. This raises further questions about how human morality may have advanced beyond that of other social animals during our evolutionary and biological history. These are questions that traditional moral philosophers have ignored, either because animal and evolutionary science was not available to them or because it was irrelevant to their conceptions of morality. According to most traditional philosophers, morality involves a choice to follow a set of rational moral standards that universally apply to all people. Even the brightest animals don’t have that mental capacity, nor did many of our evolutionary ancestors. Thus, we can ignore what scientists say about animal morality and human evolution, and for that matter we can ignore most of anything else that biological science attempts to tell us about morality.

Is this traditional picture of biology and ethics correct? In this chapter, we will look at some of the research in this area and see if philosophical theories of morality need updating to incorporate scientific insights.

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MORAL BEHAVIOR IN ANIMALS

The example of the monkey reviving his companion is dramatic, but by no means rare. A chimpanzee named Washoe rescued another chimp from drown- ing in a moat surrounding their zoo enclosure. A gorilla named Binti Jua pro- tected a three-year-old boy, who had fallen into its enclosure, by growling at other gorillas who approached the boy until zoo keepers could intervene. A stray dog pulled an injured dog to safety across a busy highway. These are all accidental incidents that were caught on camera and became news stories. But in the past few decades there has been a surge of research on animal morality that has involved carefully devised experiments. Part of the challenge with these stud- ies is setting up and conducting the experiments themselves, and the other part is interpreting what these experiments mean about morality for both animals and humans. We’ll look at each of these challenges.

Experiments on Animal Moral Behavior

When philosophers think about morality, they focus on thought processes, such as the moral intuitions that we have, moral principles that we should fol- low, or the moral reasoning procedure that we go through. For a scientist, though, these would be difficult to study even in human test subjects since they rely so much on our hidden thoughts, and would be all the more so in animals since there is a language barrier between human scientists and animals that cannot be overcome. Thus, scientific studies of morality look at animal behavior, which is publically observable and testable. Experiments can be devised that place animals in morally relevant situations and then see how they respond. While there is no master list of observed behaviors that count as morally relevant, animal researchers commonly focus on conduct that involves cooperation, sharing, fairness, and empathy.

Let’s start with a classic cooperation and sharing experiment from 1937.1

Picture this: Two chimpanzees are inside a cage, and outside there is a tray of food with two ropes attached, which the chimps can pull to bring the food closer. But the tray is too heavy for one chimp alone to pull, so both are needed to perform the task. What do they do? The chimps not only cooperate by pulling the ropes together, but they learn to pull at the same time, which speeds up the task. In a variation of this experiment, one chimp is fed in advance and has no desire to retrieve the food on the tray. Still, he assists the unfed chimp, but only reluctantly. The unfed chimp keeps tapping him on the shoulder and gesturing at the food to make him participate. Thus, the hungry chimp understands that it needs help, and the fed chimp is willing to help even though it does not want the food. In a recent replication of this experiment, cooperation improved when the two chimps had already been in a social relationship in which they shared food.

In another cooperation and sharing study,2 Chimp-1 is locked in a cage that can only be unlocked from outside the door. Chimp-2, who never met Chimp-1, is outside the cage and free to run around. Food is then placed outside

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the cage that only Chimp-2 can access. Does he eat it all himself? No: He unlocks the door so that Chimp-1 can also have some. The implication is that Chimp-2 understands the need to assist Chimp-1 in accessing the food, and he does so even if it is to his disadvantage. A similar study was conducted with rats.3

Rat-1 is trapped inside a plexiglass tube with a door that opens only from the outside. Rat-2 is free to run around and is not taught how to open the door to the tube. Rat-2 figures out how to open the door, goes inside, and pulls Rat-1 out. In a variation of this experiment, Rat-2 is given a choice between freeing Rat-1 and accessing chocolate chip treats from another tube. Surprisingly, Rat-2 first frees Rat-1 and gets some of the treats from the other tube for himself but then leaves some for Rat-1 to eat.

Here is one more sharing study from 2011 by Frans de Waal, one of the leading researchers on animal morality. Chimp-1 is given a choice between two differently colored tokens: a selfish token where he alone will get a food reward, and a prosocial token where both Chimp-1 and Chimp-2 will get a reward. When Chimp-2 is not present, Chimp-1 selects the selfish token around 45% of the time. But when Chimp-2 is present, Chimp-1 selects the prosocial token around 60% of the time, and when Chimp-2 is present and draws atten- tion to himself, selection of the prosocial token rises to around 65% of the time.

Consider now an influential experiment on fairness also conducted by de Waal. Two monkeys are in separate cages. If a monkey hands the researcher a small stone, then that monkey will receive a piece of cucumber as a reward. Both monkeys happily perform the task for their respective reward. Now, how- ever, Monkey-1 receives a grape that is a more appealing reward, while Monkey-2 still receives the cucumber. Monkey-2 immediately protests by shak- ing his cage and throwing the cucumber back at the researcher. In some repeats of this experiment, Monkey-1 will refuse the grape until Monkey-2 also receives a grape as a reward. Both monkeys not only recognize the unfairness of the dif- fering rewards, but protest until the situation is equalized. The results of de Waal’s original study have been replicated with dogs, hyenas, elephants, and even birds. In the study on dogs,4 Dog-1 presented its paw to the researcher when asked but received no reward. Dog-2 was introduced but received a treat on presenting its paw. Dog-1, still receiving no reward, started whimpering and stopped cooperating.

Turn next to a study on animal empathy conducted in 19635 where Monkey-1 would have access to food only through a device that caused Monkey-2 to be electrically shocked. The result was that Monkey-1 would fre- quently avoid accessing the food, in one case for 12 days. In variations of the experiment, monkeys were more inclined to refrain from eating when they them- selves experienced the shock. Because of improved standards of animal testing, this experiment cannot be performed today, but it shows that the monkey understood the pain that the other monkey was experiencing and avoided causing the pain. De Waal has also conducted studies of empathy in animals, and he recounts the story of an old female chimp named Penny with arthritis that could barely walk. Younger chimps would spit water in her mouth to keep her from walking to a distant water source, and would help push her up a climbing frame, no favor

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returned. De Waal argues further that contagious yawning is evidence of empa- thy: It activates the same areas of the brain, and people or animals who yawn after seeing others do so are more empathetic than those who lack yawn contagion.

Studies of cooperation, sharing, fairness, and empathy are the primary ones related to animal morality, but other areas of animal sociability are also relevant to the discussion. There is consolation where a male chimpanzee who loses a fight is hugged by a younger chimpanzee, which calms him down and comforts him. There is reconciliation where bonobos, who fought in the morning, embraced and kissed each other later as a way of repairing the damage caused by conflict. There is social mediation where some chimpanzees become self- appointed mediators to break up fights between other chimps, which improves the social stability of the group. There is elephant mourning where, when an elephant dies, others will cover its body with leaves and grass and stay with the body for a week.

What Animal Studies Show

No doubt, these studies of animal social behavior are interesting and even star- tling. An ordinary person has limited exposure to animals in their natural settings, especially large-brained mammals like chimpanzees, and these studies increase our understanding of the types of behavior that animals are capable of. But there are many ways of interpreting these studies and drawing comparisons to human moral behavior, and we need to ask a few questions about what exactly they tell us about morality.

The first question is whether any of these animal behaviors are really examples of what we as humans call morality or fairness or empathy. Yes there are remarkable resemblances, but at the same time we have a tendency to give our own characteristics to other things, that is, to anthropomorphize. The ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes warns us that people everywhere give the gods attributes of humans—their emotions, behavior, and even physi- cal appearance. Descartes gives us a similar warning about how we view ani- mals: Yes, they perform cunning tricks, and even have bodies that are similar to ours. But there is no thought behind what they do, he says, and they are only biological robots.

Animal scientists themselves have fallen into the anthropomorphism trap. During the 1960s and 1970s, several studies were conducted aiming to show that large apes could learn sign language and use it to construct original sen- tences. The issue was not one of whether apes or other animals could communi- cate with each other in their own ways. Rather, it was a question of whether they could learn and use human language with grammar. At first, the apes showed great progress and learned around 200 words that they could associate with things. It then appeared that they could string those words together into meaningful sentences. But upon close inspection of videos of the apes, one of the research scientists concluded that the apes were just mimicking their trainers when signing in full sentences. Their abilities never went beyond 200 or so words, which is the limit of human words that a dog or a parrot can recognize

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and correctly respond to. Thus, what appeared to be a display of a complex human ability turned out to be only a superficial resemblance.

Perhaps something like this is going on with animal morality. We’ve seen examples of animal rescuing, which look very compelling in their similarity to human behavior. But now consider an experiment on rescuing within ant colo- nies, which on face value also looks compelling.6 An ant is tied to a piece of paper with nylon thread and half buried in the ground. The ant calls for help and other ants from the colony arrive. They attempt to pull the ant out, discover the nylon thread, then dig down around the ant, and chew through the thread to finally free the ant. If we witnessed a parallel situation of a half-buried human being rescued by his friends, we’d say that it exhibited sophisticated communication, rational decision-making, emotional empathy, and an understanding of moral responsibil- ity. But in this study these are ants, not humans, or even chimpanzees. It is not clear whether ants and similar insects are even conscious, much less capable of the basic components of moral thinking. It could be just instinctive programming triggered by the right type of stimulus. We could conceive of designing a rescue robot that could respond to a series of if-then conditions. If you hear this kind of sound (i.e., a cry for help), then move in that direction. If you see this kind of motion in a person (i.e., struggling to get free) then perform this series of actions. Maybe this is all that is taking place with the rescuing ants.

The problem of anthropomorphizing animal behavior is a serious one. Per- haps, then, the most cautious interpretation that we can give of the ant experi- ment is this: Among social insects like ants, social behavior is mechanically programmed at an unconscious level.

A second issue in these animal studies concerns the different layers of social behavior that we see in simple animals like ants on through complex animals like humans. At the ground level are unconscious, mechanically programmed instinctive behaviors (as with ants) and at the top level are behaviors that con- sciously arise from not only instinct, but emotions, reasoning, rule-following, and tradition. Somewhere in between these two levels is the social behavior of mice, dogs, and chimps. Take, for example, the social behavior of empathy. The following are various types and levels of empathy that researchers have ascribed to animals:

Prosocial behaviors: Actions were taken to reduce the distress of an object.

Cognitive empathy: The subject has represented the state of the object as a result of the accurate perception of the object’s situation or predicament, without necessary state matching beyond the level of representation.

Emotional contagion: Similar emotion is aroused in the subject as a direct result of perceiving the emotion of the object.

Sympathy: The subject feels “sorry for” the object as a result of perceiving the distress of the object.

Empathy: The subject has a similar emotional state to an object as a result of the accurate perception of the object’s situation or predicament.7

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At the lowest level is prosocial behavior, which is the only type of empathy that we can confidently ascribe to rescuer ants: They in point of fact took action to reduce the distress of an object. If ants also have the conscious capacity to mentally represent the world, then the rescuers are also displaying cognitive sym- pathy, which is one level up. That is, they recognize the buried ant’s predica- ment without being emotionally affected by it.

One level higher is emotional contagion, such as when an excited dog will trigger excitement in surrounding dogs; so too with anger and fear. Still higher is sympathy, as when rescuer animals display signs of distress as they fervently try to help their companions. The highest level is empathy where an animal has a sim- ilar emotional state with what he observes in another animal. One important study8 showed that mice, which have the ability to make facial expressions, dis- played a facial grimace when seeing another mouse in pain. As with humans, facial expressions are a mechanism for publically displaying one’s inner emotions. The grimace response on a mouse is most likely an indicator of an empathetic experience of the victim’s pain rather than just a sympathetic experience of sor- row. Questions will still remain about how closely animal empathy is to human empathy. The animal will be interpreting the object’s unfortunate situation through its own animal experiences. If I am the object and I am lying on the ground with a fractured leg, then the animal may have a lot of empathy for me, but it would have no empathy whatsoever with me if my financial portfolio becomes worthless. But that is also how it works with human beings, and I can- not count on every person to empathize with me in every crisis that I face. The bottom line is that empathy in higher animals may be very similar to empathy in humans.

Empathy is just one component of morality, and for each of the other social behaviors that animal scientists have investigated—sharing, cooperation, fairness—the same type of analysis is needed. That is, we should first see how it appears at a lower level that is unconscious and purely instinctive, such as with ants, and then compare how it appears within higher animals like dogs or apes, and finally in humans.

Part of the value of animal morality research is that we learn more about the animals themselves. We see from these studies that animal social behavior is more sophisticated and human-like than we previously knew, and this in turn is an argument for more humane treatment of animals. This is not to say that animals have exactly the same understanding and capacity for morality as humans, which they don’t. Chimpanzees deal with conflict by biting each other, and researchers in the 1970s learned this the hard way during experiments in which they raised chimps within human households as though they were human. Also, agitated mother pigs will sometimes eat their young, which is incomprehensible from the standpoint of human morality. Nevertheless, the similarities with human moral behavior are striking enough to consider re-evaluating the lower moral status that we often ascribe to animals.

The other part of the value of animal morality research is what it says about human morality. Animals do not acquire their sense of sharing, cooperation, fair- ness, and empathy by reading philosophers or going to church or reasoning

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about it: It flows from within their biology. Why should it be any different with humans? Human genes are 99% the same as chimp genes, and we are evolution- arily related to chimps with a common ancestor 6 million years ago. While our morality is more sophisticated, there is still an evolutionary story of how it got that way. In de Waal’s words, “the building blocks of morality are evolutionarily ancient,” and we turn to this subject next.

MORALITY AND HUMAN EVOLUT ION

Since the days of the common chimp-human ancestor 6 million years ago, there have existed over a dozen different human-like species that have since gone extinct. Some of these were our ancestors, others not. If we could study the evolution of human morality in the most ideal circumstances, we would need to take tribes of each of these early hominid species, examine how their mem- bers interact with each other in the wild, and conduct experiments on them just as researchers have done with monkeys and apes. With some of these hominids, they may be similar enough to modern humans so that we could invite them to stay in our guest bedroom; with others, maybe just the backyard. Obviously, though, we can’t have direct encounters with any of these creatures, and our only recourse for learning about them is much more indirect and much less pre- cise. It involves speculating about how social and moral traits might have emerged in early humans through the evolutionary process of natural selection.

How Evolution Works

We begin with the basic elements of the evolutionary process. An examination of fossil records by themselves show that species morphed into other ones over time, but the question for science is how that morphing took place. One explanation, now discredited, is soft-inheritance where a parent supposedly passes on a trait that it acquired during its life. Suppose, for example, that a mouse gets its long tail cut off while running around on sharp rocks; on the theory of soft-inheritance, its offspring could have shorter tails. But a famous experiment showed that after five generations of cutting 900 tails of mice, the length of the newborn mice tails remained unchanged. So much for the theory of soft-inheritance.

The evolutionary mechanism that science has come to accept is Darwin’s view of natural selection, which he first presented in On the Origin of Species (1859). In its simplest form, natural selection has three steps. First, biological organisms undergo random mutations that are passed on to offspring; in modern terminology, an organism is born with a genetic mutation, and, if it survives and reproduces, its offspring may also have that mutated gene. Second, environmen- tal conditions in the natural world are harsh and do not permit the survival of every organism that comes into existence. Some will starve, others will be eaten, still others will be killed by natural disasters. Third, organisms with the most ben- eficial mutations in their natural environments will survive and pass that attribute

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on to their offspring. If a mouse is born with a mutation that makes it brown, while its siblings are all white, the brown mouse might escape the sight of a hungry owl better than the white ones, and thus survive to pass on the trait of brown fur.

There are different types of natural selection based on the different environ- mental pressures on an organism, and biologists have found it convenient to give some of them names. Sexual selection is when reproductive success results from an animal being better at securing mates than its rivals. Stronger male birds may gain better access to breeding grounds than weaker males. Female birds may prefer to mate with males that have more elaborate plumage. In both cases there are environmental pressures placed on the male animal’s reproductive success. Kin selection is when reproductive success results from the survival of an animal’s genetic relatives. A mother may fight to the death to protect her offspring rather than flee for her own safety. Thus, the mother seeks to preserve its genes through her children, not through her own continued existence.

Evolutionary Moral Theory vs. Veneer Moral Theory

We turn next to explanations of how human morality may have emerged through the natural process of evolution. There are two general ways of looking at the relation between evolution and morality. One is evolutionary moral theory, espoused by Darwin, which maintains that human morality results from the natural selection process. The other is veneer moral theory, held by Thomas Huxley, which is that morality does not emerge through natural selec- tion, but is a social creation that humans have added on to their evolutionary development. Let’s look at each.

From the moment Darwin proposed his account of evolution, the idea that human morality emerged through natural selection was a controversial one. Darwin himself delayed publishing on it for a decade, but it finally appeared in The Descent of Man (1871). His position was clear: Human morality is the out- growth of the evolutionary process of natural selection insofar as social instincts aided our ancestors in the struggle for survival. Darwin illustrates this with an example of two hominid tribes competing with each other in the same region:

When two tribes of primeval man, living in the same country, came into competition, if (other circumstances being equal) the one tribe included a great number of courageous, sympathetic and faithful mem- bers, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other…. A tribe rich in the above qualities would spread and be victo- rious over other tribes: but in the course of time it would, judging from all past history, be in its turn overcome by some other tribe still more highly endowed. Thus the social and moral qualities would tend slowly to advance and be diffused throughout the world.9

Between the two tribes, the one with social instincts will out-compete the one that lacks them. According to Darwin, the social instincts that early humans

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acquired are the same as those of other social animals and include parent-child affection, taking pleasure in the company of one’s fellows, sympathy, and giving assistance. But once humans acquired highly developed intellects, those social instincts naturally formed both a moral sense and a conscience: where the former tells us what we ought to do, and the latter motivates us to do the right thing. Through our superior intellects our social instincts naturally lead to the golden rule, do to others what you would have them do to you, “and this lies at the foundation of morality.” While the mental gap between humans and other ani- mals is immense, Darwin says, the difference is nevertheless one of degree and not of kind. Thus, any social animal that might in time acquire our level of intel- ligence would also develop a moral sense and conscience like we have. But as it stands now, only humans can be considered moral beings since we are the only creatures who are “capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them.”

While Huxley was a major defender of the theory of natural selection during the nineteenth century, he held that evolution could not be the source of human morality as Darwin believed. Evolution, Huxley argues, has given us a wide range of behavioral tendencies, some of which are sociable, such as the mutual affection of parent and offspring. Yet evolution has also given us other behaviors that are unsociable, such as an instinct to continually assert ourselves in the strug- gle for existence at the expense of others. Evolution may thus explain how humans have acquired both sociable and unsociable tendencies, but it cannot give us a reason for why we should prefer the sociable ones over the unsociable. In fact, he maintains, morality is in opposition to the struggle for existence:

In place of ruthless self-assertion it demands self-restraint; in place of thrusting aside, or treading down, all competitors, it requires that the individual shall not merely respect, but shall help his fellows; its influ- ence is directed, not so much to the survival of the fittest, as to the fitting of as many as possible to survive. It repudiates the gladiatorial theory of existence.10

Moral progress, then, aims at combating evolution: “Every child born into the world will still bring with him the instinct of unlimited self-assertion” but “will have to learn the lesson of self-restraint and renunciation.” The history of civilization itself, he argues, is the step-by-step effort “in building up an artificial world within the cosmos.” Within that artificial world, moral precepts “are directed to the end of curbing the cosmic [evolutionary] process and reminding the individual of his duty to the community.” The perfection of human morality has not yet occurred, and indeed may never come. For, our existence on this planet “is the outcome of millions of years of severe training, and it would be folly to imagine that a few centuries will suffice to subdue its masterfulness to purely ethical ends.” In short, Huxley’s view is that morality is something that human society has created by itself as a way of restricting the unsociable instincts that evolution has placed within us.

In recent years, Huxley’s view has been dubbed the “veneer theory” since he is suggesting that morality is a distinct layer of values that society has placed

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on top of our evolutionary nature. Key to his position is what we may call Huxley’s problem: We have competing natural tendencies to be sociable in some situations, yet unsociable in others, and natural selection does not recom- mend one over the other. He vividly illustrates this here:

The thief and the murderer follow nature just as much as the philan- thropist. Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before.

If evolution merely instilled in us an incompatible set of impulses, then early humans were indeed left on their own in a miserable condition of conflict. But at some point early humans made a choice: “The first men who substituted the state of mutual peace for that of mutual war, whatever the motive which impelled them to take that step, created society.”11

What should we think about Huxley’s problem? Darwin himself did not see it as an issue. Rather, Darwin felt that natural selection would give preference to human groups with the strongest social instincts, which would only increase over time and naturally give rise to a moral sense and conscience. Determining whether Darwin or Huxley were right hinges largely on how strong our evolu- tionary social instincts are and how successful they are in subduing our more selfish and violent impulses. In contemporary discussions of human evolution, this is a question of altruism, which we turn to next.

Evolutionary Explanations of Altruism

Altruism, as we saw in Chapter 6, involves acts of putting other people’s inter- ests ahead of our own. I am hungry and I want to eat an apple, but, upon seeing that you are hungry too, I give you the apple instead. This is a mild example of an altruistic act since my life or fortune are not at risk when giving up a single apple. Even a chronically selfish person might occasionally do something like this. But when we consider the impact of habitual altruistic behavior on human evolutionary survival, the issue becomes more critical. I may make sacrifices for others that lead to my own death, such as defending my tribe against invaders, which puts an end to my ability to reproduce. In discussions of human evolution, this is called biological altruism, that is, improving the reproductive fitness of others at one’s own expense. The fact is that humans do make life-threatening sacrifices for others in three groups of people: (1) for our close relatives, which is called kin altruism; (2) for our immediate community, which is called tribal altruism; and (3) for others who are not relatives or immediate community members, which is called indiscriminate altruism. If this is what we in fact do right now, then at some point in our evolutionary history we acquired these capacities. The chal- lenge for evolutionary theory is to explain how each of these three types of altruistic behavior could have arisen through natural selection. In the most extreme cases, altruism is evolutionarily self-defeating, because if I sacrifice

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myself out of altruistic kindness for others, then I cannot pass that altruistic trait on to my children, and thus that altruistic trait would die out.

Kin altruism is the easiest of the three to link with natural selection. We’ve already noted that a special type of natural selection, called kin selection, maintains that reproductive success results from the survival of an animal’s genetic relatives. The stereotype of natural selection is that it is all about the survival of the indi- vidual organism—living as long as possible and propagating as much as possible. The concept of kin selection, though, shifts reproductive success away from the individual animal itself and toward that animal’s genes. In essence, my reproduc- tive strategy is accomplished when I have children who will pass on my genes, and it is in my interests to protect them so that they too will reproduce. The strength of maternal and paternal instincts among so many animals is compelling evidence for kin selection.

Tribal altruism, though, is more difficult to connect with natural selection. I can see why I would prefer the survival of my children over myself since they carry my genes. But why should I sacrifice myself for the guy down the street who does not share my genes? Kin selection will not provide a good answer. Darwin suggested two possible ways of connecting tribal altruism with natural selection. First, we may be selfishly motivated to help others with the under- standing that they in the future will help me—essentially, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Darwin writes, “Each man would soon learn that if he aided his fellow-men, he would commonly receive aid in return. From this low motive he might acquire the habit of aiding his fellows.”12 Today this explana- tion is called reciprocal altruism. His second explanation is that we have a nat- ural instinct of sympathy that was acquired through natural selection. Sympathy, for Darwin, involves my desire to be praised by others and my aversion to being blamed. Even dogs, he argues, “appreciate encouragement, praise, and blame.” Social animals like dogs and humans have a survival edge since they respond to praise or blame from others in the group. Of these two explanations, it is recip- rocal altruism that evolutionary theorists accept as the best account for tribal altruism.

Indiscriminate altruism is even more difficult to connect with natural selec- tion. Why should I risk my life for a total stranger who doesn’t share my genetics or is even part of my community? I gain nothing whatsoever. Richard Dawkins offers a possible explanation: It may be a misfiring of an instinct that in the past increased human survival, but became less critical later. Dawkins gives the exam- ple of swimmers who were rescued by dolphins:

This could be regarded as a misfiring of the rule for saving drowning members of the school. The rule’s “definition” of a member of the school who is drowning might be something like: “A long thing thrashing about and choking near the surface.”13

Similarly, if I put my life at risk by saving a stranger from drowning, I might be following a rule that tells me to save members of my tribal community, where the definition of my tribal community might be “other people who are around me.” In an environment with limited tribal population, this would work just fine

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and simply be an expression of reciprocal altruism. But in the larger environment of towns, cities, and world civilization, where countless strangers are around me, the reciprocal benefit is absent while the altruistic moral impulse remains.

Advantages of Reciprocal Altruism over Pure Altruism

In current discussions of morality and evolution, kin selection and reciprocal altruism seem to be the most plausible explanations of how biological altruism arises. A question might still remain about why reciprocal altruism is a better strategy than pure and unconditional altruism. Imagine that you and I lived in the same tribe and you were instinctively a reciprocal altruist that would only help others who helped you in return. I, on the other hand, was instinctively a pure altruist and would help everyone. Over successive generations, which of these two instincts would come to dominate future members of the tribe, and which would die out? We might think that my characteristic of pure altruism would survive since the tribe would be stronger if all members were kinder and more mutually supportive of each other.

Dawkins, though, argues that the pure altruism instinct would not survive, and he makes his case with an example from the animal world.14 Birds are afflicted with life-endangering parasites. Because they lack limbs to enable them to pick the parasites off their heads, they—like much of the animal king- dom—depend on the ritual of mutual grooming. It turns out that nature has evolved two basic types of birds in this regard: those who are disposed to groom anyone and those who refuse to groom anyone except those who pres- ent themselves for grooming. The former type of bird Dawkins calls “Suckers” and the latter “Cheaters.”

In a geographical area containing harmful parasites and where there are only Suckers or Cheaters, Suckers will do fairly well, but Cheaters will not survive because of their lack of cooperation. However, in a Sucker population in which a single mutant Cheater accidentally arises, that Cheater will prosper, and the Cheater-gene type will multiply. As the Suckers are exploited, they will gradually die out. But, if and when Suckers become too few to groom the Cheaters, the Cheaters will start to die off too and eventually become extinct.

Why don’t birds all die off, then? Well, somehow nature has come up with a third type, call them “Grudgers.” Grudgers groom only those who reciprocate in grooming them. They groom one another and Suckers, but not Cheaters. In fact, once caught, a Cheater is marked forever. There is no forgiveness. It turns out then that unless there are a lot of Suckers around, Cheaters have a hard time of it—harder even than Suckers. However, it is the Grudgers that prosper. Unlike Suckers, they don’t waste time messing with unappreciative Cheaters, so they are not exploited and have ample energy to gather food and build better nests for their loved ones.

What we see from this bird example is that showing reciprocal altruism to others (as the Grudgers do) is a good strategy for survival, while pure altruism (which the Suckers exemplify) is a failure. Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson make a similar point about the benefits of reciprocal altruism with tribal

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hunters. The hunter spends an enormous amount of time hunting at great risk to himself, but distributes food to the entire group, hunters and non-hunters alike. This seemingly altruistic, group-enhancing behavior, it turns out, is rewarded by the group:

It turns out that women think that good hunters are sexy and have more children with them, both in and out of marriage. Good hunters also enjoy a high status among men, which leads to additional benefits. Finally, individuals do not share meat the way Mr. Rogers and Barney and Dinosaur would, out of the goodness of their heart. Refusing to share is a serious breach of etiquette that provokes punishment. In this way sharing merges with taking. These new discoveries make you feel better, because the apparently altruistic behavior of sharing meat that would have been difficult to explain now seems to fit comfortably within the framework of individual selection theory.15

So, although hunting might at first sight appear an example of pure altruism, the rule of reciprocity comes into play, rewarding the hunter for his sacrifice and contribution to the group.

This primitive notion of reciprocity seems to be necessary in a world like ours. One good deed deserves another and, similarly, one bad deed deserves another. Reciprocity is the basis of desert—good deeds should be rewarded and bad deeds punished. We are grateful for favors rendered and thereby have an impulse to return the favor; we resent harmful deeds and seek to pay the culprit back in kind (“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”).

WHAT IS LEFT FOR TRADIT IONAL MORAL ITY?

With all of this research into animal and evolutionary morality, we need to con- sider what this means for traditional ethical theory. Should philosophers feel threatened that they will soon be out of the ethics business? It has happened several times before with subjects that were once under the domain of philoso- phy, such as economics, sociology, and psychology. Centuries ago, even science itself was in the hands of philosophers under the designation “natural philosophy.” Since the time of ancient Greece, philosophy has been an arena of thoughtful speculation, but once a discipline gained a solid empirical founda- tion, it graduated from philosophy into a natural or social science. Is it time for ethics to move out of the philosophical home of its upbringing and be handed over to the scientists? We will look at three positions on this.

Philosophy Only with No Input from Science

The first position regarding the relation between biological science and ethics is that there is no any relation at all. Science is all about facts, whereas morality is about how we ought to behave, as Jerry Fodor argues here.

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Why is it so hard for us to be good? Why is it so hard for us to be happy? One thing, at least, has been pretty widely agreed: we can’t expect much help from science. Science is about facts, not norms; it might tell us how we are, but it couldn’t tell us what is wrong with how we are. There couldn’t be a science of the human condition.16

On this view, science can accumulate all the facts it wants about human bio- logy and behavior, but it will never uncover a fact that says “we ought to do such and such.” Further, it can never say “here are the biological facts, and, in view of these, this is how you ought to behave.” This is an example of what philosophers call the fact–value problem, which questions whether values are essentially dif- ferent from facts and whether moral assessments can be derived from facts.

We see this fact–value problem at play with both animal morality and the evolution of human morality. With animals, we may concede the zoological fact that animals behave in ways that allow their social groups to run more smoothly. But even if these animals have biological social instincts, do they also sense that they ought to behave in social ways? For all we can tell, they are merely acting on compulsion with no real moral sense or moral reflection. The behavioral facts are there, but the value component seems to be lacking. Consider further how we as human spectators view animal social behaviors such as sharing, cooperation, and empathy. We recognize the fact that these social behaviors are helpful to the group’s survival, but we are not in a position to claim that a dog or chimp has a moral obligation to share its food, cooperate with others, or rescue a companion. In fact, it sounds odd to even say that animals have such moral obligations.

Turning to human evolution and morality, there is another gap between empirical facts and moral values that we have seen with Huxley’s problem. Natural selection has implanted in us competing tendencies to be sociable in some situa- tions and unsociable in others, but natural selection does not tell us that we ought to follow the sociable ones and subdue the unsociable. Darwin, as we’ve seen, sidesteps this problem by arguing that natural selection has strengthened social instincts above our unsocial ones. But this only explains why human social behav- ior is as prevalent as it is: It does not tell us why our dominating social instincts count as “moral” as opposed to merely “socially effective” or just another brute sociological fact of human behavior, such as making tools or speaking languages.

Morality, then, is a unique thing that goes beyond mere scientific facts. Phi- losophers understand this, and for centuries have developed theories to explain what ethical judgments are and what their foundation is. It is understandable why scientists would be frustrated by a subject that is rooted in value rather than fact, but the very nonfactual nature of ethics will securely keep it within the domain of philosophy.

Science Only with No Input from Philosophy

The opposite extreme view regarding the relation between biological science and ethics is that it should be a subject for biologists, not philosophers. Biologist Edward O. Wilson famously challenged philosophy’s monopoly of ethics stating

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that “Scientists and humanists should consider together the possibility that the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized.”17 Moral judgments, he says, have their foun- dation in genetics, which in turn was shaped through biological evolution. De Waal argues similarly that “we seem to be reaching a point at which science can wrest morality from the hands of the philosophers…. The occa- sional disagreements within this budding field are far outweighed by the shared belief that evolution needs to be part of any satisfactory explanation of morality.”18

The long-standing philosophical assumption about morality is that it is grounded in a transcendent or higher realm of universal truth. And, that higher realm can only be accessed through rational intuition, religious enlightenment, a moral sense, or some other cognitive vehicle that is immune to scientific inquiry. In many ways this parallels traditional assumptions about religion: There is a higher religious reality that we access only through a religious expe- rience, which is also immune to scientific inquiry. The fact–value gap in tradi- tional ethical theory results from this rift between the tangible limits of scientific inquiry (fact) and the higher moral realm (value). But what if that higher moral realm is only a fairy tale? What if the lofty philosophical claims about universal moral truths are merely the result of overzealous abstract think- ing? The fact–value problem would then fall flat and along with it the mis- guided 2,500-year history of philosophical ethics. From their work in animal and evolutionary ethics, biologists offer us the most plausible alternative expla- nation of where morality comes from. It is grounded in naturally selected genes that give rise to social instincts, and, in humans, a moral sense that is as sophisticated as human intelligence itself.

A full account of everything scientists could say about morality would be a complicated one, but, with the combined efforts of biologists and social scientists, a fuller picture may emerge. Here are some of the scientific disciplines that would be involved in such a collaborative project, and the key questions that they would seek to answer.

■ Geneticists: What are the genes that generate social behaviors? ■ Neuroscientists: What is the precise neural wiring within our brains that is

responsible for social behaviors? ■ Animal Scientists: What are the instinctive social behaviors of social

animals? ■ Evolutionary Biologists: What were the environmental constraints on early

hominids that led to social instincts? ■ Anthropologists: What social behaviors in contemporary indigenous tribes

might resemble those of early humans? ■ Developmental Psychologists: How do human social behaviors emerge in

infancy and childhood? ■ Abnormal psychologists: How does social behavior go wrong? ■ Sociologists: What values do people hold in various cultures and subcultures?

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■ Political Scientists: What are the pros and cons of various morally relevant laws?

■ Economists: How can we test people’s moral choices through hypothetical scenarios in game theory?

■ Cognitive Scientists: What are the potential cognitive flaws in the moral decision-making process?

In this chapter, we have focused on the contributions of just two sciences on the above list, namely, those of animal scientists and evolutionary biologists. Two other sciences on this list, though, deserve brief mentioning. First, there are game theory experiments conducted by economists that show how people in social groups perceive cooperation, fairness, and altruism. One important study of altruism was conducted on natives in Papua New Guinea as a way of understanding tribal altruism during earlier human evolution. Player A receives $100 with the understanding that he could share any amount with Player B (who has no money). Player C, who receives $50, watches how much money A gives to B. If C is unhappy with the amount of A’s altruistic giving, then C can spend $10, $20, or $30 which will punish A by removing those same amounts of money from A. The normal expectation for A’s sharing was a 50/50 split, which, in hunter-gatherer tribes, ensures that if one group member comes back from a hunt with nothing, other hunters will give him an equal portion to make up the difference. The study showed that if B and C were from the same tribe, C would punish A more harshly for subnormal sharing than if B and C were from different tribes (in both cases A was from a different tribe than B or C). That is, “punishers protect ingroup victims—who suffer from a norm violation—much more than they do outgroup victims, regardless of the norm violator’s group affiliation.”19 The point is that tribal people have a higher standard of fairness for those within their own group than they do for those within other groups.

Second, there are studies in cognitive science that examine our moral decision-making process. One study suggests that we usually engage in moral reasoning after we have already reached a moral judgment, rather than before- hand as we commonly assume. Other studies suggest that moral judgments sometimes depend on factors that are morally irrelevant, such as how a set of moral choices is worded, or whether a moral dilemma involves me or some- one else. People are also harsher in their moral judgments when they are hun- gry, rather than just after a meal. Many studies of morality in cognitive science, such as these, expose irregularities and even defects with how we make moral judgments, which implies that our moral intuitions are not as reliable as we might think.

Returning to the above list of disciplines, the goal of this collaborative pro- ject would be that, for any question about morality we might ask, there would be some area of science that could offer a tangible and satisfactory answer. Where does morality come from? What values should I hold? Why do I sometimes make immoral choices? The larger benefit of this project would be to remove ethics from philosophical fairyland similar to what happened centuries ago

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when transferring the study of the stars from astrology to astronomy, the study of chemicals from alchemy to chemistry, and the study of insanity from demono- logy to biology.

Both Philosophy and Science

So far we’ve seen the two extreme views about who is best qualified to under- stand the nature of morality: philosophers only or scientists only. Much of the dispute rests on the fact–value problem, which we will examine in greater detail in a later chapter. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the fact–value problem is a fairytale, as Wilson and some other scientists have charged. Let’s assume that if we knew all the facts connected with morality, that would essen- tially exhaust the subject and there would be no mysterious value left to explore. Does that mean that philosophy should step aside and let science take over? Not necessarily. First, the “science-only” position sketched above is more like a wish list of what scientists hope to accomplish in the study of ethics. If we go through the above list of scientific disciplines and evaluate their actual contributions to date regarding morality, we will see that they are only at a preliminary stage. For example, geneticists have not identified all morally relevant genes. Neuros- cientists have no complete map of the brain’s neural connections, much less an understanding of which connections are related to morality. Evolutionary biolo- gists engage in a lot of speculation about primitive human social behavior, which often looks more like philosophy than science. While the reality of human evo- lution is indisputable, picky details about it have unfortunately been lost to time.

We will find similar limitations within each of the above disciplines, and, until science has a more complete analysis of morality, philosophy is entitled to continue its study of the subject. But as new studies in the science of morality become available, philosophers would be wise to take that scientific information into account, and not just conduct business as usual. A middle position, then would be a philosophical study of morality that was continually informed by new science. An important benefit of this approach is that we could formulate our moral expectations more clearly and realistically. For example, as the study in Papua New Guinea suggests, our natural expectations of fair treatment are higher when the victim is a member of our in-group, rather than a complete stranger. Perhaps this means that we must try harder to universalize our notions of fairness so that we can overcome this under-evolved natural inclination. This may be similar to how we try to overcome our natural inclination for fatty foods, which served us well in early days of human evolution when food was scarce and life was short, but now is an inclination that harms our health and longevity. For each new scientific study in morality, there may be similar attention-getting messages that philosophers should be alert to.

One moral philosopher who took seriously the message of evolution was John Dewey, and in many ways he serves as a model for mediating between the interests of science and philosophy. According to Dewey, we need to under- stand morality as an outgrowth of evolution insofar is it results from humans adapting to their environments. In early days of human evolution, our ancestors

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biologically adapted to environmental pressures, completely unaware that natural selection was taking place. Moral evolution is still ongoing today, but now we are conscious of it. Dewey argues that our present social environment is chang- ing at a blindingly fast pace, which makes modern life very unstable, perhaps even more so than life in early days of evolution. We thus need to consciously adapt our moral conceptions and behavior to these new conditions; other out- dated moral conceptions will simply die out since they can no longer compete. But, he warns, we can neither simply abandon our old moral traditions and insti- tutions, which will lead to chaos, nor maintain them without change, which will lead to their extinction. Instead, we must update them by experimenting with different social ideas and seeing which ones will work within our present envi- ronment. Such changes to our traditional morality will require “re-constitution and re-adaptation, and that modification will be accompanied by pain. Growth always costs something. It costs the making over of the old in order to meet the demands of the new.”20 All of this social adaptation is still evolution through natural selection, but it is a very conscious and intentional one at a social level, rather than an unconscious one at a biological level.

Dewey’s point is that we cannot simply throw out traditional philosophical theories of morality, even misguided ones. The parts that still function within today’s society, we keep. The parts that are ill-adapted, we modify. Dewey warns that moral values and institutions that fail to adapt to the challenges of ever-changing social environments will ultimately die out. This same warning may apply to moral philosophy itself. By stubbornly holding to antiquated meta- physical theories about transcendent realms of moral truth, philosophy risks becoming irrelevant. For Dewey, science is responsible for the rapid changes in our environment: “The growth of science, its application in invention to indus- trial life, the multiplication and acceleration of means of transportation and inter- communication, have created a peculiarly unstable environment.” Now, over a century after Dewey wrote this, technological change has only become more rapid. Science, then, is the unstable environment that will either force moral philosophy to adapt or die out.

CONCLUS ION

In this chapter, we first looked at studies of animal social behavior relating to cooperation, sharing, fairness, and empathy. As compelling as the examples appeared, we noted the risk of reading too much into them and anthropomor- phizing an animal’s capacity for moral behavior. Nevertheless, we saw that there may be differing levels of moral ability, from the lowest level in social creatures like ants that is unconscious, to the highest level in humans that is reflective. Higher animals such as dogs and chimpanzees fall in between these two levels. We next examined theories about the evolution of human morality, distinguishing between Darwin’s theory that human morality results from the natural selection process and Huxley’s veneer theory that morality is only a social creation that humans have added on to their evolutionary development. The heart of the

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dispute was Huxley’s contention that natural selection alone cannot tell us whether we should prefer our social instincts over our unsocial ones. We then looked at evolutionary accounts of altruism where kin altruism was likely the result of the evolutionary process of kin selection and tribal altruism the result of reciprocal altruism. Indiscriminate altruism, we saw, may have resulted from a misfiring of reciprocal altruism. We also saw that reciprocal altruism has an evolutionary advantage over pure altruism.

Finally, we looked at whether philosophers or biologists are best equipped to study ethics. The philosophy-only view maintains that science, which deals only with facts, is ill-suited for the task since morality is about value judgments that cannot be reduced to mere facts. The science-only view maintained that the fact–value distinction is a myth, and with the proper input from enough biologi- cal and social sciences, all important questions about morality can be adequately addressed. We then looked at the hybrid view that both science and philosophy need to contribute to discussions of ethics. In its current state, science alone is incapable of making good on its promises, yet philosophy can still gain much by considering scientific studies of ethics. Dewey’s view of evolutionary ethics, we saw, combines both science and philosophy. He acknowledges the role of evolution in early stages of human moral development but argues that environ- mental pressures on human society are fiercer than ever, and we must con- sciously adapt our values to meet those demands. In that sense, the evolution of morality through natural selection is ongoing.

NOTES

1. Meredith Crawford, “The Cooperative Solving of Problems by Young Chimpanzees,” Comparative Psychology Monographs 14 (1937): pp. 1–88.

2. Marlene Cimons, “Humans Have a Lot to Learn from Bonobos, Scientist Says,” Live Science, April 23, 2010.

3. Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety, and Peggy Mason, “Empathy and Pro-Social Behavior in Rats,” Science 334 (December 2011): pp. 1427–1430.

4. Friederike Range, “The Absence of Reward Induces Inequity Aversion in Dogs,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (2009): pp. 340–345.

5. Jules H. Masserman “Altruistic Behavior in Rhesus Monkeys,” The American Journal of Psychiatry 121 (1964): pp. 584–585.

6. Katherine Taylor, “Precision Rescue Behavior in North American Ants,” Evolution- ary Psychology 11 (2013): pp. 665–677.

7. Adapted from Stephanie D. Preston and Frans B. M. de Waal, “Empathy: Its Ultimate and Proximate Bases,” Behavioral and Brain Science 23 (2002): pp. 1–20.

8. Dale J. Langford, “Coding of Facial Expressions of Pain in the Laboratory Mouse,” Nature Methods 7 (2010): pp. 447–449.

9. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd ed. (London: John Murray, 1874), Ch. 4.

10. Thomas Huxley, ed., “Evolution and Ethics,” in Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays (London: Macmillan, 1894).

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11. Thomas Huxley, ed., “The Struggle for Existence in Human Society,” in Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays (London: Macmillan, 1894).

12. Darwin, The Descent of Man, Ch. 5.

13. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1976), Ch. 6

14. Ibid., Ch. 10.

15. Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson, Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 142–143.

16. Jerry Fodor, “Why Pigs Don’t Have Wings,” London Review of Books 29 (2007, October 18) 19–22.

17. Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 563.

18. Frans de Waal, Good Natured (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).

19. Helen Bernhard, “Parochial Altruism in Humans,” Nature 442 (2006): 912–915.

20. John Dewey, “Evolution and Ethics,” The Monist 8 (1898): 321–341.

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Consider the various examples and experiments regarding animal social behavior presented at the beginning of this chapter. Which come the closest to human-like morality?

2. Is it anthropomorphizing too much to say that some higher animals, like chimpanzees, have a sense of morality that is close to that of humans? Explain.

3. Compare and contrast Darwin and Huxley’s views of evolution and morality and say which, if either, seems right.

4. Discuss Dawkins’s evolutionary account of indiscriminate altruism and whether it is an adequate explanation.

5. Explain why reciprocal altruism is better evolutionarily adapted than pure altruism, and give an example of this from what you have personally experienced or read about that illustrates this.

6. Of the three approaches to the relation between evolution and morality (that is, philosophy only, science only, both philosophy and science), which seems most reasonable and why?

7. Dewey argues that unconscious biological evolution and conscious social evolution are essentially the same thing, since they both involve natural selection under environmental pressure. Is Dewey right that they are fundamentally the same, or are there critical differences between the two? Explain.

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11

Gender and Ethics

W omen in much of the world today take it for granted that they have thesame fundamental rights as men, but as recently as the 1960s and 1970s in the United States this was not so. A woman could be refused a credit card if she was single, and if married she needed a cosignature from her husband. Women could not take birth control in some states; keep their jobs if pregnant; practice law; officially run in the Boston Marathon; or attend Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. If we go back to the early 1900s, women could not vote, easily attend any college, or get any kind of professional job. Go back still further and women could not own property or file for divorce. Just as societies of the past have rele- gated women to a lower status, so too have many traditional moral theories that emerged during these same periods of time.

Men have not only made the moral rules of society, but they have done so in such a way that the female perspective of moral issues has been ignored in favor of a male perspective. British philosopher Alison Jaggar describes five ways in which the traditional ethical theory has a harmful male bias.1 First, there is a lack of concern for women’s interests to the extent that it relegates to women a series of subservient obligations, such as obedience, silence, and faithfulness. Second, it neglects women’s issues by confining them to a socially isolated domestic realm of society that does not rise to the level of legitimate political regulation. Third, it denies the moral agency of women in the sense that women are said to lack the capacity for moral reasoning. Fourth, there is a preference for masculine values over female ones, where the former include “independence, autonomy, intellect, will, wariness, hierarchy, domi- nation, culture, transcendence, product, asceticism, war, and death.” Underap- preciated feminine ones, by contrast, include “interdependence, community, connection, sharing, emotion, body, trust, absence of hierarchy, nature,

175

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immanence, process, joy, peace, and life.” And, fifth, there is a devaluation of women’s moral experience in favor of male notions of moral rules, judgments about particular actions, impartial moral assessments, and contractual agree- ments. All of these ignore the more female approaches, which look at the spe- cial contexts of moral situations and attempt to resolve them through empathetic feeling rather than through appealing to rules.

In this chapter, we will look at some of the problems with traditional theo- ries of gender and morality, and consider whether there is a more uniquely female approach to morality that better expresses the female perspective. This issue of gender and morality hinges on two fundamental questions:

1. How do men and women psychologically differ from each other (if at all)?

2. Based on those psychological differences, how do men and women morally differ from each other (if at all)?

Both are perfectly legitimate questions, and in fact we ask similar ones all the time. Take children, for example. We’re keenly interested in understand- ing the psychological differences between children and adults, and we typically conclude that those differences impact children’s capacity for moral judgment and responsibility. Younger children, in particular, do not have the psycholog- ical tools to weigh long-term consequences of actions as effectively as adults do, which in turn skews their capacity for moral responsibility. Consider also how we judge the moral capacity of psychologically impaired adults with a brain injury or who have been brainwashed. We don’t expect the same level of moral responsibility from them, and often we don’t find them morally responsible at all for behavior that would otherwise land you or me in jail. We apply similar reasoning to our moral assessment of animals. While we like to treat our pet dogs and cats as family members, we recognize that, in spite of their intelligence, they psychologically differ from us to such a degree that we don’t recognize any capacity of moral responsibility within them whatsoever. Similar reasoning would guide us if we were visited by aliens from a distant planet. Perhaps the first question we’d ask is how psychologi- cally similar are they to us, and the answer to that question would tell us whether we should welcome them into our community as moral equals, or instead run for our lives.

The above two questions are natural enough for us to ask when considering gender differences. Men and women differ psychologically from each other at least somewhat, and it very well may be that those psychological differences shape men’s and women’s respective moral capacities. But as natural as it is for us to ask these two questions, how we’ve answered them throughout history has determined whether women have been empowered or subjugated.

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CLASS IC V IEWS

Discussions of gender and morality began in ancient Greece almost as soon as philosophy emerged as a formal discipline; however, from the start, opinions about women’s moral capacities were biased. We will consider just a few of the classic views on this issue, beginning with Aristotle.

Aristotle: Women and Natural Subservience

When addressing the first question above, “How do men and women psycho- logically differ from each other,” Aristotle’s answer is that men are psychologi- cally designed to command, and women to obey. It is nature’s way to have some born as leaders and others as followers and, by natural design, women are the followers. Their role as followers, he argues, is most evident in the fam- ily structure, where there are three hierarchical relations: the household master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the father over the children. In each of these three cases, one sets the rules and dominates over the other. Aristotle is not saying that women are slaves or children, but rather that they fill a subordinate role within the family, parallel to the way that slaves and children do. What differentiates women from slaves and children is the psycho- logical ability to make thoughtful and deliberative choices. Slaves lack that ability completely, and children have that ability only in an immature and undeveloped state. Women do have the ability to make deliberative choices, but lack a natural authority behind what they decide. It is only men who make deliberative choices with leadership and authority, and only when they are adults and not naturally servile slaves. This, according to Aristotle, is the way that nature designed us.

In view of these natural psychological differences, Aristotle proceeds to the second question: how do men and women morally differ from each other—or in his words, “we may ask about the natural ruler, and the natural subject, whether they have the same or different virtues” (Politics, 1.13). His answer is mixed. All of us need to acquire the full range of virtues, including courage, temperance, generosity, and good temper. However, each of these virtues displays itself dif- ferently based on the constraints of our psychological makeup. Men’s virtues are tied to their natural capacity to command, and women’s to their natural capacity to obey. Yes, women should have the virtue of courage, but their courage should be in performing challenging tasks under the husband’s leadership. Yes, they should have the virtue of temperance and restraint, but in different areas than men. Being subservient, women should be less talkative than men. Yes, they should be virtuous in household management, but their expertise lies in frugality and maintaining what the husband acquires, not in acquiring it herself. Accordingly, we cannot expect virtues in men and women to display themselves in the same way: “A man would be thought a coward if he had no more courage than a courageous woman, and a woman would be thought overly talkative if she imposed no more restraint on her conversation than the good man” (ibid., 3.4). For Aristotle, then, there is a distinct type of female morality that is

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grounded in their uniquely female capacity. There are special female ways of developing the traditional virtues, and there are special female moral obligations that stem from women’s natural function. It is not a flattering type of morality since it draws from their presumed natural subservience, but it is one that is nonetheless uniquely female.

What should we think about Aristotle’s conception of gender and ethics? Today, the notion of natural female subservience is flat out rejected, and to even hint at it will invite cries of bigotry. One reason is that we are now in a much better position to see women excel in leadership roles when society does not hold them back through gender discrimination. Aristotle devised his social philosophy based on how the societies of his time actually operated, all of which were patriarchal. All that he saw were societies of men taking control and women dutifully obeying. In that context, it would be easy for anyone to infer that women were by nature subservient to men, and perhaps it would have been nearly impossible for even the most enlightened thinker to conceive other- wise. What it took was a massive social alteration, where women were given equal access to education and job opportunities, revealing that they could suc- cessfully compete head on in leadership roles with men. There are still some societies today that cling to the patriarchal structures that Aristotle defends, but they are becoming fewer and increasingly unpopular.

Rousseau: Women as Objects of Sexual Desire

Aristotle’s view of gender and ethics was reiterated by moral philosophers for centuries that followed, partly because of the authoritative position that Aristotle held as one of the greatest philosophers, and partly because society continued its patriarchal structure that reinforced gender stereotypes. Two thousand years after Aristotle, we find the notion of natural female subservience in the views of French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). Rousseau, we should note, was not any more sexist than other writers of his time, but he is among the most notorious since he wrote a treatise on the philosophy of education, which discusses in great detail the differences between men and women. Regarding the first question above concerning the psychological differences between the genders, men, Rousseau argues, are strong and aggressive and women are weak, passive, and offer little resistance. Nature has perfectly paired up these two opposing tendencies in the genders and thus made women espe- cially for men’s delight. It is his strength that attracts her to him, and it is her allurement that attracts him to her.

Regarding the second question, how do men and women morally differ, Rousseau argues these natural psychological differences directly shape the moral differences between genders: women should capitalize on their weakness and use sex to get what they want from their husbands. A wife should make herself phys- ically appealing to him, and not provoke him to anger. When she wants some- thing specific from him, she should compel him by being sexually alluring. He thus depends on her cooperation to satisfy his sexual desires, and she in turn is willing to submit to his superior strength when she gets what she wants from

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him. Rather than being ashamed of being weak, she’s actually proud of it: “her soft muscles offer no resistance, she professes that she cannot lift the lightest weight; she would be ashamed to be strong.”2 Throughout her life, her weak- ness and passivity direct how she interacts with everyone around her. She needs freedom from work when pregnant, an easy life when nursing, and a zeal for love that unites and preserves the family. She must strive to maintain a good reputation as a faithful wife so that she convinces her husband that his children really are his. In view of these key psychological and moral differences between the genders, Rousseau argues that women need to be educated differently to bring out these natural differences, so that they can more effectively entice men through their beauty and charm. It would in fact be counterproductive to edu- cate women as men are, since the more they are like men, the less influence they’ll have over them, “then men will be masters indeed.”3

Wollstonecraft: Gender-Neutral Morality

Eighteenth-century British philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) examined many discussions of the so-called gender differences, including Rousseau’s, and said enough was enough. For too long, women have been both psychologically and morally misrepresented, and she was going to set the record straight. Yes, women are by nature physically weaker than men, but men have exploited this weakness and have imposed on women the status of fleeting objects of sexual desire, and women have fallen right into the trap. As to the first question regarding psychological differences between genders, she argues that men and women are in fact fundamentally the same. If it does not appear that way, that’s because of the gender roles that have been imposed on them. While young girls are taught to play with dolls, dress up, and be talka- tive, they would not naturally choose these activities: a “doll will never excite [a girl’s] attention unless confinement allows her no alternative.”4 Nevertheless, these traits stick with them and they spend their adult lives engaging in trivial and childish activities, such as wearing fashionable clothes, painting, decorating, and even inventing nicknames for animals. Most important, women are not born to be sexual flirts, as Rousseau maintained, but are taught to be that way since they have no other option.

Concerning the second question regarding the moral differences between genders, Wollstonecraft argues that women and men are fundamentally the same morally as they are psychologically. The moral status of all humans is gov- erned by three capacities that distinguish us from animals, namely: reason, the exercise of virtue, and the passion for knowledge. Women have all of these in the same degree that men do, and society should give the same freedom to cul- tivate them as men have. In their daily routines, women may take on special moral obligations, such as raising children, but these will not be uniquely female duties: “Women, I allow, may have different duties to fulfill; but they are human duties, and the principles that should regulate the discharge of them, I sturdily maintain, must be the same” (ibid., Chapter 3). That is, any man performing the same activity, such as raising children, would have precisely the same moral

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obligations. It is merely incidental that women take on certain social roles, and not essential to their moral obligation. In fact, while women are commonly thought to be naturally virtuous with child rearing, Wollstonecraft argues to the contrary that women are not necessarily good at it: “Woman … seldom exerts enlightened maternal affection; for she either neglects her children, or spoils them by improper indulgence” (ibid., Chapter 10). Most importantly, women also have no special moral obligation to be subservient and sexually alluring to their husbands, as Rousseau maintained. The marital relation should be instead founded on friendship and a respect for the woman’s rational abilities. Morally speaking, as women become more emancipated, they will emulate the virtues of a man. This does not mean that women should excel in the skills of “hunting, shooting, and gaming,” or even that they should excel in the virtues of courage and fortitude, all of which are connected with the physically stronger bodies that men possess. Rather, Wollstonecraft argues, women should have the freedom to develop the rational virtues of truthfulness, justice, and humanity, which were traditionally more associated with men.

Instinct vs. Social Construction

Wollstonecraft was decades ahead of her time in many ways. She challenged centuries-old stereotypes of natural female subordination and gender roles within marriage and society. She insisted on both educational and vocational equality for women, envisioning a time when women could work as physicians, entre- preneurs, and in other areas traditionally reserved for men. She also envisioned a future when women could participate in the political system and directly defend women’s interests. All of these notions, along with her overall emphasis on equality and justice for women, resonate exceptionally well in today’s social and political climate. It is in that spirit of equality and justice that she fashioned her gender-neutral conception of morality: Men and women alike have exactly the same fundamental moral obligations and virtues. Whatever moral differences there may seem to be between the genders are only the result of misguided edu- cation. Is Wollstonecraft’s theory of gender-neutral morality the final word on the subject? Probably not. It’s not because her conception of social justice is flawed in any way; in fact, her views of equality and justice are very robust. The reason has more to do with the psychological assumptions that she was making. In answering our first question, “How do men and women psychologi- cally differ from each other?” she made her best guess based largely on her own personal experience as a woman: the genders are essentially the same regarding psychological capacity. She did not conduct experiments using the scientific method or draw on neurological studies—tools that were not available to her at the time. Her evidence was only anecdotal.

Unfortunately, even today our ability to scientifically investigate gender dif- ferences is only slightly better than it was in Wollstonecraft’s day, and many of our contemporary views are still driven by stereotype and speculation. One pub- lished study asserted that women talk nearly three times as much as men— 20,000 words per day versus 7,000 spoken by men. But a later study showed

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that they were essentially the same, at around 16,000 words.5 Other studies sug- gested that boys are better at math than girls, but this too was overturned by a later study. Similar problems occur with attempts to show that women are better at multitasking.6 Nevertheless, there is mounting scientific evidence that many psychological gender differences are genuine. A recent study of rhesus monkeys suggests that there is a hormonal basis for the toys that boys and girls prefer: “Male monkeys, like human boys, showed an overwhelming preference for the wheeled toys, while female monkeys, like human girls, though interacting more with the plush [doll] toys did not show a significant preference for one toy type over the other.”7

While the jury is still out on the particulars, it’s safe to say that there are at least some psychological gender differences that are very much ingrained in men and women, respectively. But a critical question that we must ask is whether these psychological differences are instinctive or merely social constructions. The rhesus monkey study does suggest that toy preferences between genders are in some way instinctive, and not merely a social construction that is imposed on genders through education or cultural brainwashing. But maybe that study, like so many others on gender differences, will be overturned by a new one. And even if it is a scientific fact, we may need to just ignore it for the time being. At this stage in our scientific knowledge of gender differences, it may be best to avoid taking a strong stand on the nature–nurture question. Galileo once argued that we should not stubbornly cling to theories when “the contrary may afterwards be revealed by the evidence of our senses, or by actual demonstration.”8 This certainly applies to many of our present convictions about gender differences, which may be over- turned at any time by scientific studies. Further, the issue of gender differences is so sensitive that some scientific studies do not even make their way into the pop- ular media for fear of bringing on a firestorm of critique.9 Wollstonecraft herself states that she resisted committing herself to the nature–nurture issue on psycho- logical gender differences as much as she could. Playing it safe like this may just be prolonging an essential nature–nurture question that must ultimately be answered. Nevertheless, whether they are rooted in instincts or social constructions, some gender differences are so strong that they deserve to be acknowledged right now and taken seriously as possible foundations for gender differences in ethics.

FEMALE CARE ETH ICS

Let’s grant that there are at least some major psychological differences between genders. The next critical issue involves determining which ones, if any, might shape ethical differences between men and women. A good example is the psy- chological difference between toys that boys prefer and toys that girls prefer. A preference toward wheeled toys implies that a child has an interest in how things work, such as the rules of mechanics, cause, and effect. This might well translate into a male disposition to see the social and moral world as a giant rule-governed machine. A preference toward dolls, by contrast, suggests an

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interest in personal relationships and emotional interactions between play char- acters. This then might translate into a female tendency to see the social and moral world as a network of personal relationships. That is, women excel in their capacity for nurturing and caring for others. In the home, women bear the brunt of child rearing and care for elderly relatives. In the workplace, women dominate in the fields of education, nursing, counseling, and social work. Does this special psychological capacity mean that women have a special moral capacity to care? Many contemporary moral philosophers have answered this with a resounding “yes”: Morality from a female perspective focuses on caring for others. Whereas men are typically more rule-following with morality and emphasize abstract moral duties, women typically focus on particular rela- tionships and the need for caring within those relationships.

Kohlberg and Gilligan: Justice vs. Care

In her groundbreaking book In a Different Voice (1982),10 American social psy- chologist Carol Gilligan championed the idea of a uniquely female ethics of care. She developed her view in reaction to a famous theory of moral develop- ment by Harvard psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg. According to Kohlberg, from childhood on through adulthood, people progress in their moral thinking, moving through six different stages. We begin selfishly with a focus on per- sonal gratification and the desire to avoid punishment. When we do consider the interests of other people, our concern is with how we might benefit, as in I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. But as we mature and move through different stages of moral development, we look beyond our individual wants and focus more on the ideals of justice and universally applied abstract princi- ples of morality. Kohlberg supported his theory through a series of studies in which he presented people of varying ages with moral dilemmas, and then asked them to explain what the right choice should be. In one study, he asked eleven-year-old boys to resolve a dilemma in which a man named Heinz has a very sick wife and cannot afford the costly drug necessary to save her life. Heinz has an opportunity to steal the drug from a pharmacy. What should Heinz do? A typical male response is that given by a boy called “Jack”: Heinz should steal the drug. Jack reasons in this way:

[Jack:] For one thing, human life is worth more than money, and if the druggist only makes $1,000, he is still going to live, but if Heinz doesn’t steal the drug, his wife is going to die.

Why is life worth more than money? [Jack:] Because the druggist can get a thousand dollars later from rich

people with cancer, but Heinz can’t get his wife again. Why not? [Jack:] Because people are all different and so you couldn’t get

Heinz’s wife again. What if Heinz does not love his wife? [Jack:] He should still steal the drugs to save his wife’s life, for there is

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“a difference between hating and killing.” Jack places morality over the law, for “the laws have mistakes, and

you can’t go writing up a law for everything that you can imagine.”11

Gilligan objects that Kohlberg’s studies were done entirely on males, and she contrasts this kind of male-oriented rational moral thinking with that of the aver- age eleven-year-old girl, whose moral reasons emphasize relationships. Typical of girls’ responses to the Heinz dilemma is that of the girl called “Amy,” who responds to the question of whether Heinz should steal the drugs:

I don’t think so. I think there might be other ways besides stealing it, like if he could borrow the money or make a loan or something, but he really shouldn’t steal the drug—but his wife shouldn’t die either.

Responding to the question, why shouldn’t Heinz steal the drug? Amy points out the harmful effect that stealing the drug could have on the couple’s relationship.

If he stole the drug, he might save his wife’s life, but if he did, he might have to go to jail, and his wife might get weaker again, and he couldn’t get more of the drug, and it might not be good. So, they should really just talk it out and find some other way to make the money.

Gilligan argues that, on average, a woman’s moral point of view is differ- ent from a man’s. Whereas men typically emphasize rights and principles of justice (moral justice even triumps the law in the Heinz dilemma), women typically focus on particular relationships, on care, in which principles are less important, and they place more importance on the process (“they should talk it out and find some other way to make the money”). Gilligan agreed with Kohlberg that people move through different stages of moral develop- ment, but with women there are three specific levels. The first level is where a girl focuses too much on her personal interests, neglecting the needs of others. The second flips the situation, and she focuses too much on the needs of others, neglecting her own. The third is where her needs and those of others are more in balance.

A defender of traditional morality might look at Gilligan’s three stages and conclude that there is nothing uniquely female about them; in fact, what the girl has done is developed her moral reasoning to the point of being a good utilitar- ian. She starts out as an egoist, focusing only on the consequences of her actions as only she was affected. She then becomes an altruist, considering the conse- quences of her actions as only others were affected. Finally, she considered the consequences of her actions as both she and others would be affected. But while Gilligan’s three stages may appear to move toward something like a utilitarian ideal, the unit of value for Gilligan remains that of care, rather than a traditional utilitarian value like pleasure, benefit, or preference. The ideal, for Gilligan, is for the woman to bring in balance how much of herself she commits to caring for others and for herself, without being either selfishly uncaring toward others, or a slave to the care of others.

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Care and Particularism

Gilligan is one of many contemporary theorists who see care as the central com- ponent of female ethics. Their specific theories often differ, sometimes dramati- cally, but there are several common themes surrounding an ethics of care.12 First is that women see their personal identities as deeply interconnected with other people. Our identities are first formed within a social network of others, and even as adults when we think of who we are as people, our social network of family, friends, and community is right there at the core. By contrast, the tradi- tional male approach is one that stresses personal autonomy, freedom, indepen- dence, and zones of privacy. Second is that women focus on specific circumstances surrounding moral situations. The male approach tends to see moral situations in the abstract, where the actions of individual people are just instances that should be judged by a general moral rule. Third is that women see morality within the context of close personal relationships and the develop- ment of intimate emotional connections. The traditional approach, by contrast, idealizes the impartial judge who makes moral assessments based on a rational decision-making process. Fourth is that women see morality as a function of vul- nerability and dependency. The traditional approach depicts moral decision- makers as rational, courageous, and fully informed humans, which is far from the reality of helplessness in which we often find ourselves.

With each of these four factors, the difference between the traditional and female approaches to morality may be only a matter of degree. Men also see themselves as interdependent, consider special circumstances in moral situations, develop emotional connections in personal relations, and recognize moral issues surrounding vulnerability. But these are not at the center of traditional concep- tions of morality in the way that they are for women. For care ethics, then, it is precisely these particular relations, not the abstract universal principles that gen- erate our ethics. This is called moral particularism; it states that morality always involves particular relations with particular people, not lifeless abstractions. Care ethicists reject traditional universalist ethics, the idea that ethics consists in uni- versal moral principles, applicable to all people at all times. Instead, they argue that universalism is too abstract to justify our special obligations to family and community. Morality flourishes in concrete relationships that give meaning and purpose to our lives; we misconstrue the subject when we transform it into the abstract, bloodless universal principles of the core morality.

Again, the difference between traditional and female approaches to morality may be only a matter of degree regarding their emphasis on particularism. Tradi- tional moral theories already acknowledge special obligations to family, friends, and community. Kant would argue that we have special relations to our families because we are more deeply responsible for them. Utilitarians would argue that we will maximize utility if we each concentrate on helping those close to us, our family, friends, and local community members, rather than trying to give equal attention to people hundreds of miles away or in other countries. This is because we understand our close relations better than we do strangers and foreigners and are more likely to maximize welfare if we concentrate on their needs. Of course,

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for traditional moral theorists, we have obligations to people in other countries, but they seldom override our primary obligations to our family, friends, or local community. So, traditional moral theory can incorporate at least some of the particularist concerns of care ethics, while at the same time embracing general duties to those who fall outside of our personal sphere.

But defenders of care ethics may question whether this component of “spe- cial obligation” within traditional morality is particularist enough. With such a heavy emphasis on abstract moral principles, these special obligations could be trivialized. Will traditional morality require us to carry out those special obliga- tions with the same level of emotional connection and sensitivity to context that care ethics emphasizes? And, more importantly, would those special obligations within traditional ethics incline us to apply abstract notions of justice in a more particularized manner? If not, then traditional morality has not gone far enough in particularizing our moral obligations.

Care and Virtues

As we’ve seen, a dominant feature of care ethics is its mistrust of general moral principles that supposedly govern every morally relevant action. Because of the abstract nature of such general principles, they prevent us from grasping the unique context of each moral situation and thereby impose a cold and clinical moral judgment rather than prompting a more caring and contextual personal involvement in that situation. For this reason, many defenders of care ethics argue that care should be seen as a component of virtue theory, where care is a nurturing character trait that we personally internalize, as we do other virtues.

This view was defended by American philosopher of education Nel Noddings.13 Care ethics, she argues, is a quest for new virtues based on tradi- tional women’s practices, even when these female practices themselves become abandoned within modern society. Aristotle’s view of female virtues was based on a hierarchical social structure in which the lower classes were locked into their roles. As such, for Aristotle, women’s virtues were those of subservience, obedience, industry, silence, and service. But even these reflect women’s roles as nurturers, which, once the range of social and political privilege has been extended to women, can be developed into a nonsubservient ethics of caring. We should look in particular at everyday practices and traditional caring roles of women, such as cooking, teaching, nursing, and childhood education. Even though many of these tasks can be exploitive, they nevertheless require special virtues or character traits that traditional morality has overlooked. These all emphasize needs over rights, and love over duty. For Noddings, gender-free morality may simply be impossible. Men invented the criteria of what constitutes an adequate moral theory, emphasizing rights and duties, and so any female input on the traditional dialogue would be at an immediate disadvantage. It could not be left to men themselves to incorporate a female element into ethical theory, and the entire discussion of care would not have arisen if women did not initiate it. It is, then, virtue theory and its focus on character development that is most amenable to care ethics, rather than moral systems of rights and duties.

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But is Noddings correct that traditional rule-governed morality is a hostile environment to an ethics of care? American philosopher Sarah Clarke Miller disagrees, and argues instead that care is fully compatible with general moral principles. The resistance that care ethics has to principles stems from a mis- taken view of the role that general principles of moral duties and rights actually play within moral theory. Indeed, the use of general principles may be recep- tive to the special contexts of moral situations that care ethics emphasizes. Gen- eral principles serve as an overall guide for moral decision-making, but this is only one element of a larger process of moral judgment. We also need to “evaluate the role principles might play in any given moral situation by taking note of the relevant details of that situation, which is to say, by paying close attention to the context surrounding the moral situation and the particular fea- tures of the individuals involved.”14 We don’t force-fit all moral situations with their subtle differences into a few inflexible rules. The devil is in the details, and those details of a situation tell us whether the general rule applies, or per- haps requires a more particular rule of guidance. Thus, the female care value can be right at home when expressed as a duty and obligation to care. In fact, this may be a better fit than linking care to virtue theory. The world at present is horribly needy with massive poverty, starvation, the lack of clean water, and proper medical care. Current caregivers, as hard as they work, cannot come close to meeting the demand. The need is so great that it creates a moral urgency that is best expressed as a general duty to care.

So, is the care value best expressed as a virtue, as Nodding recommends, or as a duty, as Miller recommends? The choice may be an artificial one since there are ways of marrying the two notions. In fact, the war between virtue theory and duty theory is a comparatively new one, and the concept of virtue was commonly seen as “the disposition to do right actions or duties,”15 that is, the practice of actualizing our duties. Morality begins with fundamental duties of obligation that are expressed as general rules. We then internalize those rules by forming virtuous habits which enable us to spontaneously act in obedience of our duties. In this way, we can begin with a duty to care that is generated by needs that we see throughout the world. We then develop the virtue to care, which enables us to act spontaneously and habitually in a caring way and, in essence, become caring people. What is important for advancing the female care value—at least at this stage in the development of the concept—is that it gains some foothold within the traditional ethical theory. If it can be expressed both as a virtue and a duty, then so much the better.

FOUR OPT IONS REGARDING GENDER AND ETHICS

We now have before us a sophisticated theory of ethics from the female perspective, and the next question we must answer is what this all means for traditional morality. Are women supposed to completely cut ties with traditional morality? And what about men: are they supposed to stick with the traditional rule-oriented

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approach or adapt to the female one? There are four possible options, each of which we will examine.

Male-Only Option

The first option is that only the traditional so-called “male” view of ethics is valid, which emphasizes general abstract principles, and both men and women should adopt it. The idea of a unique female morality is not a new one. It was jump started by Aristotle, and only in recent times has it been refashioned in a way that avoids demeaning stereotypes of female subservience and inferiority. But why refashion theories of female morality at all? Why not just dispense with them as remnants from an earlier time when moral philosophers were completely misguided about the psychological differences between men and women? While it is tempting to think that we understand gender differences much better now, even today scientific studies are casting doubt on many commonly held gender distinctions. It makes no sense to use gender differ- ence to reform ethical theory when we are still not clear about what those differences are. On the other hand, the general principles of ethics devised by philosophers over the centuries have withstood the test of time. While some defenders of female morality try to brand this tradition as male- oriented, those principles of morality were formulated to apply universally to all people, male and female. Further, throughout history, traditional ethics has always included values that are very similar to the care value, such as char- ity, benevolence, civility, hospitality, and responsibility toward one’s children and parents. Wollstonecraft was right: Morality is gender-neutral, and it is just a matter of giving women access to the traditional value system that is already in place.

In response, yes it is true that in their best moments traditional ethicists have formulated moral principles that apply universally to men and women alike. But it is also true that traditional morality has always been tied to human physiology. There are emotions, drives, and natural inclinations that spark specific behaviors. There are special feelings like compassion and sympathy that inform our moral judgments. Even a rule-oriented value like justice is commonly tied to a special feeling—a sense of justice. Recent biological research now tells us that physiolog- ical gender differences are critical to anything that is health-related: “Sex matters. Sex, that is, being male or female, is an important basic human variable that should be considered when designing and analyzing studies in all areas and at all levels of biomedical and health-related research.”16 To accept this in areas of health, but not in ethics, seems like holding to an outdated moral theory for the sake of nothing but tradition itself. While there are care-like values within tradi- tional ethics, such as charity, they are often undervalued and they downplay particularization, which, by contrast, female care ethics emphasizes. We still may be fuzzy on the details of psychological gender differences, but advances in the fields of both biology and psychology suggest that advocates of female- oriented ethics are on the right track. Thus, the traditional “male-only” approach to ethics seems incomplete.

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Female-Only Option

The second option is that only the female approach to morality is valid, and both men and women should adopt it. According to this view, men have hijacked the discipline of moral philosophy and forced it into an artificial system that worships rules and abstract principles, and ignores the heart and particular context of morality. Throughout time men are the ones who have dominated the field of philosophy, devising moral theories based on their own male psychological predispositions. Women had virtually no say in the matter, but, now that women can participate in the dialogue, it is time to point out the errors of the male-oriented approach and shift morality’s focus to the sorts of nurturing human experiences that women exemplify best. Wollstonecraft was right that there is only one conception of morality for all people to follow, but that conception is care ethics, not rigid rule-based systems. Maybe there are some disciplines, like the field of engineering, which are rightly male-oriented, but morality is not one of those disciplines. Ethics is female in char- acter, and men and women alike should adopt it in its female form. Just as women have the capacity to work in male-oriented fields like engineering, men too have the capacity to assimilate a female approach to ethics. And, when it gains universal accep- tance, there may no longer be a need to refer to it as a “female”morality—any more than we refer to education, social work, or counseling as “female” disciplines.

The main problem with this female-only approach is that its conception of ethics is just as incomplete as the male-only approach. If it is wrong for traditional male ethi- cal approaches to veto the female voice, then it is equally wrong for female ethical approaches to veto the male voice. Even if we grant that traditional ethics has not been as receptive to the women’s perspective as it should have been, it is quite another thing to maintain that there is absolutely nothing valid about the traditional concep- tions of morality that have been forged over the past 2,500 years. Out the window go general principles of justice, duties, rights, consequences, contracts, impartiality, fair- ness, freedom, and responsibility. These are general principles that are not merely cen- tral to ethical theory, but also to our commonsense dialogues about the morally right thing to do. Traditional moral philosophers never pretended to have invented these ethical concepts in an isolated laboratory; they were instead refinements of the moral reasoning process that normal people engage in. An important part of the human thought process is to make abstractions and general rules about our life experiences. It is the foundation of all sciences, and it’s at the heart of our efforts to make sense of the world around us. Would it even be possible for someone to adopt a female-only approach to morality, never once drawing on the traditional repertoire of abstract moral concepts? Probably not. Thus, we should reject the female-only approach to ethics, just as we should the male-only approach. This leaves us with a conception of ethics that somehow involves both male and female elements, which we turn to next.

Separate-but-Equal Option

The third option is that there are two equally valid domains of ethics grounded in gender differences, where men should emphasize the male approach, and women the female approach. There is some psychological basis for this option.

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American social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister describes a study that monitored girls and boys for an hour at a playground. It turned out that girls played one- on-one with the same playmate for the full hour, whereas boys either played one-on-one with a series of different playmates or they played within a larger group. The girls seemed to prefer one-to-one relationships, while the boys preferred larger groups or networks. Thus, while men and women are both social, they appear to be so in different manners, where women specialize in the narrow sphere of intimate relationships, and men in the larger group. He writes, “If you make a list of activities that are done in large groups, you are likely to have a list of things that men do and enjoy more than women: team sports, politics, large corporations, economic networks, and so forth.”17

Baumeister speculates about the evolutionary advantages of this division of labor. Close relationships are more important since they are critical to our immediate survival, but the larger networks of shallower relationships are good for developing larger social systems from which culture develops. Thus, our species as a whole has benefited by engraining these two tendencies within the respective genders. Extending Baumeister’s analysis, we can see how the traditional male approach to morality, with its emphasis on general rules, is suited for bringing order to larger social groups of impersonal rela- tionships. The female care value, by contrast, is suited for the more intimate relationships that we cultivate with others. Since these two approaches to morality are tied directly to psychological gender differences—how men and women are by nature sociable—it makes sense for men to emphasize the tra- ditional ethical approach and women the care approach. Their ethical approaches are separate, but equal.

However, this separate-but-equal option quickly falls apart. Right off, the psychological studies show only that men are more motivated toward group inter- action and women more motivated toward intimate relationships. Both genders clearly have the capacity for both types of social interaction, and, as Baumeister himself says, it’s more a matter of what interests men and women, respectively. Men have the ability to raise the kids even if they’d prefer to run a business, and vice versa with women. And, from a moral perspective, just because a man may be interested in group activities more than intimate relationships, this does not mean he has no moral obligation to care for others in close relationships. Simi- larly, just because a woman may be more interested in intimate relationships than in group activities, this doesn’t mean that she should ignore all the general rules of traditional morality. Further, if the separate-but-equal option were instituted, it could have disastrous consequences for women. Take domestic chores like rearing children and seeing to the needs of elderly parents. Men could assign those tasks to women on the grounds that that is their area of moral expertise, while keeping for themselves the tasks of running governments and large cor- porations. This not only risks reinforcing traditional gender roles, but it adds a moral stigma to those who do not comply. It is not simply a breach of etiquette if a woman fails to care for her elderly parents or strives to run a business, but it is morally wrong for her to do so. Far from empowering women, this form of female morality is a throwback to ancient times and subjugates them as much

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as does Aristotle’s notion of female subservience. We must reject, then, the separate-but-equal option regarding gender and morality.

Mutually Inclusive Option

The final option is that men and women should adopt both the male and female approaches to morality. In our examination of the above three options, we’ve seen that there are just grounds for both, including the female perspective in ethics and for retaining the traditional male approach that stresses general rules. We’ve also seen that we cannot segregate these two approaches, assigning the one to women and the other to men. Rather, a mutually inclusive approach is needed where men and women internalize both tendencies. Women have indeed already internalized the traditional male approach to morality that emphasizes general rules. Even if women are naturally less interested in it than men, they’ve had thousands of years of practice at it. The burden, then, is placed on men to learn from the more uniquely female component of morality and internalize that. We’ve seen that men have that capacity and, if anything, it is just a question of motivating them to accept moral responsibility for tasks that might not necessarily interest them. Many of our typical moral obligations are already uncomfortable to us, particularly when they conflict with our selfish inclinations, such as treating people respectfully even when we don’t like them, or respecting other people’s property rights when they have something that we want, or telling the truth even when it’s to our disadvantage. But, the morally responsible person fulfills these obligations anyway. At worst, adjusting men’s moral expectations to include female values may mean expanding men’s set of moral obligations to include things that do not naturally interest them. But even then, there is the benefit of moral growth and the opportunity to make men more versatile moral agents than they would otherwise be.

CONCLUS ION

We’ve seen that traditional ethical theory has done a poor job of representing women’s moral viewpoint. Aristotle saw female virtue as subservience, and Rousseau emphasized the need of women to be sexually appealing to men. Wollstonecraft argued that morality is gender neutral, drawing on human ratio- nality that men and women both share. Gilligan argued that women have a special capacity to care for others, and this translates into a female value of care, a key component of which is particularization. Noddings sees the care value as a virtue, and Miller as a duty, but both of these are compatible. We’ve concluded that the best way of resolving tensions between the gender- related differences in ethics is for men and women to adopt both the male and female approaches to morality.

Having said all this, however, we still could be clearer about precisely what the female value is that we should internalize. The care value is currently the best option on the table, but that has only been around for a few decades, and there’s

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no telling what else might be proposed when there are more reliable studies on psychological gender differences. In the meantime, we might make a best guess. It would help if we had a female version of the golden rule that quickly captures the uniquely female moral perspective, yet at the same time shows its relation to traditional ethics. Perhaps something like this: “Treat others as friends in need, without violating principles of justice.” By treating others as friends in need, we incorporate the female care value and its emphasis on particularization. By not violating principles of justice, we are acknowledging the validity and constraints of the traditional rules of morality. While our initial stance toward others should be one of intimate caring, lurking in the background is the set of moral rules that we have learned from our youth onward that guards against unjust conduct. Jus- tice is an especially good representative of traditional morality since it holds a central place in virtually all ethical theories—whether the theory is virtue- based, social contractarian, Kantian, utilitarian, or a dozen other approaches. The emphasis on justice also sends a clear message that the caring relationship we develop with others cannot be unfairly preferential. It is one thing to develop a special relationship with others, but it is entirely different if it turns into nepo- tism, favoritism, partiality, and other types of unfairness. A balance is needed between close relationships and impartiality, otherwise caring could devolve into tribalism or a good ol’ boy’s club, where we become overly loyal with the caring friendships that we cultivate.

NOTES

1. Alison Jaggar, “Feminist Ethics,” in Encyclopedia of Ethics, eds. L. Becker and C. Becker (New York: Garland Press, 1992), pp. 363–364.

2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, or On Education (1762), Ch. 5. This classic is available in many editions in print and online.

3. Ibid.

4. Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), Ch. 3. This classic is available in many editions in print and online.

5. Nikhil Swaminathan, “Gender Jabber: Do Women Talk More than Men?” Scientific American, July 6, 2007.

6. Eric H. Chudler, “He Brains, She Brains,” http:faculty.washington.edu/chudler /heshe.html.

7. Kim Wallen and Janice M. Hassett, “Sexual Differentiation of Behavior in Monkeys: Role of Prenatal Hormones,” Journal of Neuroendocrinology 21(4) (March 21, 2009): pp. 421–426.

8. Galileo Galilei, letter to Benedetto Castelli, December 21, 1613.

9. Richard Lynn, “Sorry, Men Are More Brainy Than Women (and More Stupid Too!),” Mail Online. www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1274952.

10. Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982).

11. Quoted in ibid., p. 26.

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12. These common points of care ethics are adapted from Sarah Clark Miller, “The Need for Care: Gender in Moral Theory,” in Ethical Theory: Classical and Contempo- rary Readings, ed. L. Pojman (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011).

13. Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

14. Sarah Clark Miller “The Need for Care: Gender in Moral Theory,” in Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings, ed. L. Pojman (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011)

15. Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics (1874), Bk. 3, Ch. 2. Sidgwick states that, while duties and virtues are commonly associated, there are some virtues that are not connected with duties. Also, William Leslie Davidson writes, “Virtue and Duty are words commonly employed as synonymous; so that moralists speak indifferently of a ‘classification of virtues’ and a ‘classification of duties,’ ” The Logic of Definition (1885), p. 196.

16. Theresa M. Wizemann, ed., Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter? Institute of Medicine (Washington D.C.: National Academy Press, 2001), p. 3, http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309072816.

17. “Is There Anything Good about Men?,” American Psychological Association, Invited Address, 2007.

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Explain Jaggar’s five criticisms of traditional male-oriented ethics, and say whether you agree, based on the theories discussed earlier in this book.

2. Aristotle’s and Rousseau’s views on the psychological and moral differences between genders are outrageously sexist by today’s standards. Is there any- thing at all in their theories that might be applied in a more positive way toward women? Explain.

3. Describe Wollstonecraft’s gender-neutral view of morality and explain whether you agree.

4. The nature–nurture question regarding psychological gender differences is still an unanswered one. Suppose that gender differences with female traits such as nurturing and particularization are not natural but only social con- structions. Would this invalidate the theory of care ethics? Explain.

5. Traditional ethics already contains some care-like elements, such as special obligations to family, friends, and local community. Also, there are the tra- ditional values of charity, benevolence, civility, and hospitality. Defenders of care ethics would say that these do not go far enough and something extra is involved in care ethics. What might that something extra be? Alternatively, are care ethicists exaggerating the uniqueness of the care value? Explain.

6. Noddings argued that the care value is best expressed as a virtue, whereas Miller maintained that it is best expressed as a duty. A third option is that

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moral virtues and duties are intertwined (where virtues are the disposition to perform our duties), and thus the care value involves both virtues and duties. Which, if any of these views, is right? Explain.

7. Suppose you agree that morality for men and women alike should be some combination of rule-following and particularized caring. What should the ratio of emphasis be between rules and care: 75 percent–25 percent, 50 percent–50 percent, 25 percent–75 percent? Explain.

8. Consider the female “golden rule” presented in the conclusion. Does it undermine the very nature of female-oriented ethics to present it as a rule in this way?

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12

Religion and Ethics

A prominent bishop in the Church of England publicly stated that recentfloods that destroyed large sections of the country were God’s judgment on modern society for their moral corruption and environmental irresponsibil- ity. Pro-gay laws, he argued, were responsible in part for the floods. He stated,

This is a strong and definite judgment because the world has been arrogant in going its own way. We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation, as well as the environmental damage that we have caused. We are in serious moral trouble because every type of lifestyle is now regarded as legitimate.… Our government has been playing the role of God in saying that people are free to act as they want. The sexual orientation regulations [which give greater rights to gays] are part of a general scene of permissiveness.1

The recent floods, he argued, were God’s way of getting our attention and calling us to repentance.

Since the beginning of written history, morality has persistently been linked with religion. Morality has been identified with adherence to godliness, immorality with sin, and the moral law with the command of God so that the moral life is seen as a personal relationship with a heavenly parent. To act immorally is essentially to disobey God. Whether it is the poor Calcutta untouchable accepting his degradation as his religious karma, the Jew circum- spectly striving to keep kosher, or the Christian giving to charity in the name of Christ, religion has so dominated the moral landscape as to be virtually indistinguishable from it. There have been exceptions: Confucianism in China is essentially a secular system; there are nontheist versions of Buddhism; and the philosophers of Greece contemplated morality independent of

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religion. But throughout most of our history, most people have identified morality with religion, with the commands of God.

The question remains whether the equation is a valid one. Is morality essen- tially tied to religion, so that the term secular ethics is a contradiction in terms? Can morality survive without religion? Tolstoy declared that to separate morality from religion is like cutting a flower from its roots and transplanting it rootless into the ground. In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov one of the characters proclaims, “If God doesn’t exist, everything is permissible.” Are these views correct?

In this chapter, we address the connection between religion and morality by focusing on three questions: (1) Does morality depend on religion? (2) Is religion irrelevant or even contrary to morality? (3) Does religion enhance the moral life?

DOES MORAL ITY DEPEND ON REL IG ION?

The first question is whether moral standards themselves depend on God for their validity or whether there is an independence of ethics so that even God is subject to the moral order. This question first arises in Plato’s dialogue the Euthyphro in which Socrates asks a religiously devout young man named Euthyphro, “Do the gods love holiness because it is holy, or is it holy because the gods love it?”2 Changing the terms but still preserving the meaning, we want to know whether God commands what is good because it is good or whether the good is good because God commands it.

The Divine Command Theory

According to one view, called the divine command theory (DCT), ethical principles are simply the commands of God. They derive their validity from God commanding them, and they mean “commanded by God.” Without God, there would be no universally valid morality. Here is how theologian Carl F. H. Henry states this view:

Biblical ethics discredits an autonomous morality. It gives theonomous ethics its classic form—the identification of the moral law with the Divine will. In Hebrew–Christian revelation, distinctions in ethics reduce to what is good or what is pleasing, and to what is wicked or displeasing to the Creator-God alone. The biblical view maintains always a dynamic statement of values, refusing to sever the elements of morality from the will of God. … The good is what the Creator-Lord does and commands. He is the creator of the moral law, and defines its very nature.3

We can analyze the DCT into three separate theses:

1. Morality (that is, rightness and wrongness) originates with God.

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2. Moral rightness simply means “willed by God,” and moral wrongness means “being against the will of God.”

3. Because morality essentially is based on divine will, not on independently existing reasons for action, no further reasons for action are necessary.

There are modified versions of the DCT that drop or qualify one or more of these three theses, but the strongest form includes all three assertions. We can characterize that position thusly:

Necessarily, for any person S and for all acts A, if A is forbidden (required) of S, then God commands that not-A (A) for S. Likewise, if A is permitted for S, then God has commanded neither A nor not-A for S.

Bringing out the implications of this, we may list four propositions:

1. Act A is wrong if and only if it is contrary to the command of God.

2. Act A is right (required) if and only if it is commanded by God.

3. Act A is morally permissible if and only if it is permitted by the command of God.

4. If there is no God, then nothing is ethically wrong, required, or permitted.

We can summarize the DCT this way: Morality not only originates with God, but moral rightness simply means “willed by God” and moral wrongness means “being against the will of God.” That is, an act is right in virtue of being permitted by the will of God, and an act is wrong in virtue of being against the will of God. Because morality essentially is based on divine will, not on indepen- dently existing reasons for action, no further reasons for action are necessary. So we may ask, “If God doesn’t exist, is everything permissible?” If so, nothing is forbidden or required. Without God, we have moral nihilism. If there is no God, then nothing is ethically wrong, required, or permitted.

The opposing viewpoint, call it the independence thesis, denies the theses of the DCT, asserting, to the contrary, the following:

1. Morality does not originate with God (although the way God created us may affect the specific nature of morality).

2. Rightness and wrongness are not based simply on God’s will.

3. Essentially, there are reasons for acting one way or the other, which may be known independent of God’s will.

In sum, ethics exist independent of God, and even God must obey the moral law—as the laws of mathematics and logic do. Just as even God cannot make a three-sided square or make it the case that he never existed, so even God cannot make what is intrinsically evil good or what is good evil.

Theists who espouse the independence thesis may well admit some episte- mological advantage to God: God knows what is right—better than we do. And because he is good, we can always learn from consulting him. But, in principle, we act morally for the same reasons that God does: We both follow moral

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reasons that are independent of God. We are against torturing the innocent because it is cruel and unjust, just as God is against torturing the innocent because it is cruel and unjust. By this account, if there is no God, then nothing is changed; morality is left intact, and both theists and nontheists have the very same moral duties.

The attractiveness of the DCT lies in its seeming to do justice to the omnip- otence or sovereignty of God. God somehow is thought to be less sovereign or necessary to our lives if he is not the source of morality. It seems inconceivable to many believers that anything having to do with goodness or duty could be “higher” than or independent of God because he is the supreme Lord of the believer’s life, and what the believer means by morally right is that “the Lord com- mands it—even if I don’t fully understand it.” When the believer asks what the will of God is, it is a direct appeal to a personal will, not to an independently existing rule.

Problems with the Divine Command Theory

There are two problems with the DCT that need to be faced by those who hold it. One problem is that the DCT would seem to make the attribution of “good- ness” to God redundant. When we say “God is good,” we think we are ascribing a property to God; but if good simply means “what God commands or wills,” then we are not attributing any property to God. Our statement “God is good” merely means “God does whatever he wills to do” or “God practices what he preaches,” and the statement “God commands us to do what is good” merely is the logically empty statement “God commands us to do what God commands us to do.”

A second problem with the DCT is that it seems to make morality into some- thing arbitrary. If God’s decree is the sole arbiter of right and wrong, it would seem to be logically possible for such heinous acts as rape, killing of the innocent for the fun of it, and gratuitous cruelty to become morally good actions—if God suddenly decided to command us to do these things. The radicality of the DCT is set forth by a classic statement of William of Ockham:

The hatred of God, theft, adultery, and actions similar to these actions according to common law, may have an evil quality annexed, in so far as they are done by a divine command to perform the opposite act. But as far as the sheer being in the actions is concerned, they can be per- formed by God without any evil condition annexed; and they can even be performed meritoriously by an earthly pilgrim if they should come under divine precepts, just as now the opposite of these in fact fall under the divine command.4

The implications of this sort of reasoning seem far reaching. If there are no constraints on what God can command, no independent measure or reason for moral action, then anything can become a moral duty, and our moral duties can change from moment to moment. Could there be any moral stability? The pro- ponent of the DCT may object that God has revealed what is his will in his

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word, the sacred Scriptures. But the fitting response is “How do you know that God isn’t lying?” If there is no independent criterion of right and wrong except what God happens to will, how do we know God isn’t willing to make lying into a duty (in which case believers have no reason to believe the Bible)?

When I was a teenager, I read in the newspaper of a missionary in Africa who put a knife through the hearts of his wife and five children. Upon his arrest for murder, he claimed God commanded him to kill his family and he was only obeying God. The missionary might further argue, “Didn’t God command Abraham to kill his son Isaac in Genesis 22?” How do we know that God didn’t command him to do this horrible deed? He would only be sending his family to heaven a bit sooner than normal. Insane asylums are filled with people who heard the voice of God commanding them to do what we normally regard as immoral: rape, steal, embezzle, and kill. If the DCT is correct, we could be treating these people as insane simply for obeying God.

If God could make what seems morally heinous morally good simply by will- ing it, wouldn’t morality be reduced to the right of the powerful—Nietzsche’s position that “Might makes right”? Indeed, what would be the difference between the devil and God if morality were simply an arbitrary command? Suppose we had two sets of commands, one from the devil and one from God. How would we know which set was which? Could they be identical? What would make them different? If there is no independent criterion by which to judge right and wrong, then it’s difficult to see how we could know which was which; the only basis for comparison would be who won. God would be simply the biggest bully on the block (granted it is a pretty big block—covering the entire universe).

Furthermore, the Bible speaks of God being love: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8). Could you truly love people and at the same time rape, kill, or torture them? Could a loving God command you to torture them? If so, then I suppose Auschwitz could be considered God’s loving act to the Jews.

The opponent of the DCT (that is, the proponent of the independence the- sis) denies that God’s omnipotence includes his being able to make evil actions good. Even as God’s power does not include being able to override the laws of logic (for example, he cannot make a contradiction true or 2 þ 2 ¼ 5), so like- wise God cannot make rape, injustice, cruelty, and the torturing or killing of innocents good deeds. The objective moral law, which may be internal to God’s nature, is a law that even God must follow if he is to be a good God.

Some philosophers and theologians acknowledge that God cannot change the moral law any more than he can change the laws of logic but claim that he is nevertheless the source of the moral law. For example, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig sets forth the following argument:5

(1) If there is no God, no moral absolute values exist. (2) Evil exists (which is a negative absolute value and implies that the Good

exists as an absolute positive value). (3) Therefore, God exists.

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Craig assumes that unless God is the ultimate source and authority of morality, it cannot have absolute or objective status. But if the independence thesis is cor- rect, objective moral principles exist whether or not God exists. They are the principles that enable human beings to flourish, to make life more nearly a heaven than a hell. Rational beings can discover these principles independently of God or revelation—using reason and experience alone.

Kant: God Makes Morality Possible

Even if we don’t accept the DCT view that morality is created by God, we can still ask if morality depends on God in other ways. German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) argues that it does and that the mere possibility of meaningful ethics depends on religion. But Kant was not divine command theorist, and he held firmly to the independence thesis. There can be no difference between valid religious ethics and valid philosophical ethics, he argues, because God and humanity both have to obey the same rational principles, and reason is sufficient to guide us to these principles:

[Christianity] has enriched philosophy with far more definite and purer concepts than it had been able to furnish before; but which, once they are there, are freely assented to by Reason and are assumed as concepts to which it could well have come of itself and which it could and should have introduced. … Even the Holy One of the Gospels must first be compared with our ideal of moral perfection, before we can recognize him as such.6

However, Kant maintains, religion completes morality by directly linking morality with the immortality of the soul and God’s existence. Immortality, he argues, is a necessary postulate for morality in this way: We are commanded by the moral law to be morally perfect. Because “ought” implies “can,” we must be able to reach moral perfection. But we cannot attain perfection in this life because the task is an infinite one. Thus, there must be an afterlife in which we continue to make progress toward this ideal.

Similarly, God is a necessary postulate because there must be someone to enforce the moral law. That is, to be completely justified, the moral law must end in a just recompense of happiness in accordance to virtue—what Kant refers to as the “complete good.” From the standpoint of eternity, the complete good requires that happiness should be proportioned to virtue in such a way that those who deserve happiness receive it in proportion to their moral merit. Likewise, evil people must be punished with unhappiness in proportion to their vice. This harmonious correlation of virtue and happiness does not happen in this life, so it must happen in the next life. Thus, there must be a God, acting as judge and enforcer of the moral law without which the moral law would be unjustified.

Kant is not saying that we can prove that God exists or that we ought to be moral in order to be happy. Rather, the idea of God serves as a comple- tion of our ordinary ideas of ethics. Is Kant right about this? Critics point out

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that we can use Kant’s argument against him. In its simplest form, here is Kant’s argument:

(1) If morality is meaningful, then God exists. (2) Morality is meaningful. (3) Therefore, God exists.

For the sake of argument, let’s grant his principal point in premise 1 that the justification of morality depends on the existence of God. Suppose, though, we find no convincing evidence for God’s existence. Building on premise 1, then, we can then construct this argument to reject morality:

(1) If morality is meaningful, then God exists. (2) It is not the case that God exists. (3) Therefore, it is not the case that morality is meaningful.

The same kind of counterargument can be constructed regarding the immortality of the soul. The critic’s point is that, in Kant’s view, morality and God rise and fall together, and it may not be good to saddle morality with an issue as debat- able as God’s existence.

I S REL IG ION IRRELEVANT OR EVEN CONTRARY

TO MORAL ITY?

We now turn to the views of secularists who want to disentangle the relation- ship between religion and morality. Many secularists have argued against both the stronger claim of the DCT (that religion is the basis of ethics) and the weaker Kantian claim (that religion makes ethics possible). Secularists often take two approaches: Some argue that religion is irrelevant to morality, and others espouse that religion is actually contrary to true morality. We begin with the first of these.

Russell: Religion Irrelevant to Morality

British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) was one of the twentieth cen- tury’s most vocal critics of religion. In a famous essay, he stated that religion as a whole has made virtually no useful contributions to civilization and in fact has been the cause of incalculable suffering:

My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race. I can- not, however, deny that it has made some contributions to civilization. It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses with such care that in time they became able to predict them. These two services I am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others.7

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On the subject of the relation between religion and ethics, he argued that morality has no need of God: One can be moral and, within the limits of thoughtful stoic resignation, even happy. The world may well be a product of blind evolutionary striving, ultimately absurd, but this doesn’t remove our duty to fill our lives with meaning and goodness. He writes,

Nature, omnipotent but blind, in the revolutions of her secular hurry- ings through the abysses of space, has brought forth at last a child, sub- ject still to her power, but gifted with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity of judging all the works of his unthinking Mother.8

It is this conscious power of moral evaluation that makes the child superior to his all-powerful Mother. He is free to think, to evaluate, to create, and to live committed to ideals. So, despite suffering, despair, and death, humans are free. Life has the meaning that we give it, and morality will be part of any meaning- ful life.

Theists may, however, counter that secularists like Russell are “whis- tling in the dark.” George Mavrodes has criticized Russell’s secular view, calling it puzzling. If there is no God, then doesn’t secular ethics suffer from a certain inadequacy? Mavrodes argues that the Russellian world of secular morality cannot satisfactorily answer the question “Why should I be moral?” because, on its account, the common goods, at which morality in general aims, are often just those that we sacrifice in carrying out our moral obligations. Why should we sacrifice our welfare or self-interest for our moral duty?

The second oddity about secular ethics, according to Mavrodes, is that it is superficial and not deeply rooted. It seems to lack the necessary metaphysical basis afforded by a Platonic worldview (that is, reality and value essentially exist in a transcendent realm) or a Judeo-Christian worldview:

Values and obligations cannot be deep in such a [secular] world. What is deep in a Russellian world must be such things as matter and energy, or perhaps natural law, chance, or chaos. If it really were a fact that one had obligations in a Russellian world, then something would be laid upon man that might cost a man everything but that went no further than man. And that difference from a Platonic world seems to make all the difference.9

Of course, the secularist will continue the debate. If what morality seeks is the good, as I have argued, then secular morality based on a notion of the good life is inspiring in itself because it promotes human flourishing and can be shown to be in all of our interests, whether or not a God exists. A religious or Platonic metaphysical orientation may not be necessary for a rational, secular, common- sense morality. To be sure, there will be differences in the exact nature of the ethical codes—religious ethics will be more likely to advocate strong altruism, whereas secular codes will emphasize reciprocal altruism—but the core morality will be the same.

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Hume and Dawkins: The Immorality of God and Religion

Some secularists go even further than Russell, claiming that not only are religious and secular morality dissimilar but also religious morality is an inferior brand of morality that actually prevents deep moral development.

Skeptical philosopher David Hume (1711–1776) is a case in point. He wrote at a time when it was just beginning to be politically safe in Europe to publish antireligious ideas; as such, he’s one of the first purely secular ethicists since ancient Greece. Hume pointed out several problems with the traditional view that connected religion and morality. The first problem, Hume argues, is that the very conception of God as popularly depicted in religions is that of an immoral tyrant who acts out with vengeance, severity, cruelty, and malice. He writes, “No idea of perverse wickedness can be framed, which those terrified devotees [that is, religious believers] do not readily, without scruple, apply to their deity.”10 This is true even of the most sophisticated conceptions of God: “As men farther exalt their idea of their divinity, it is their notion of his power and knowledge only, not of his goodness, which is improved.”

A second problem with the traditional connection between religion and ethics, Hume argues, is that religious practices themselves are typically contrary to morality. The reason is that, as believers attempt to please God, they do so by performing absurd religious rituals and not through moral behavior:

It is certain, that, in every religion, however sublime the verbal defini- tion which it gives of its divinity, many of the votaries [that is, religious believers], perhaps the greatest number, will still seek the divine favor, not by virtue and good morals, which alone can be acceptable to a perfect being, but either by frivolous observances, by intemperate zeal, by rapturous ecstasies, or by the belief of mysterious and absurd opinions.11

True morality, according to Hume, is a very natural and agreeable part of human life; by contrast, bizarre superstitious practices are difficult and tedious. Thus, when attempting to appease their finicky God, believers latch onto the more difficult approach, rather than the more natural one. The more extreme their superstition, the more they abandon morality. In his personal life, Hume was so distrustful of the conduct of religious believers that as one of Hume’s friends reported, “When he heard a man was religious, he concluded he was a rascal.”

What should we think of Hume’s arguments? Right off we should recognize that his views rest on some very broad generalizations: the average person’s con- ception of God’s morality and the average person’s religious rituals. Nevertheless, many religious believers themselves agree with Hume’s generalizations and main- tain that people typically do have distorted views of God’s nature and religious observance. Indeed, a common theme in most world religions is to expose moral flaws in the views and actions of dissenters, heretics, or rival religions. However, the believer’s assumption is that there is a true and morally pure conception of God and religion. Hume goes a step further, though, and charges that the moral

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flaws within religion are so universally widespread that there is almost nothing morally salvageable in religion. To be truly moral, from Hume’s perspective, I may not need to be an atheist, but I’d need to substantially reduce my religious superstition and fanaticism, perhaps to the point that religion is just a minor hobby in my life’s routine. This is the part of Hume’s theory that seems too extreme. Devout believers can keep a close watch on their conceptions of God and religious observance to avoid declining into moral madness. Hume is skepti- cal about whether the average person can actually do this, but we’re not forced to accept Hume’s level of skepticism here.

In the same spirit as Hume’s critique, British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins also argued that religion promotes immorality. Dawkins describes a study that was done with Israeli schoolchildren. First, they were presented with the biblical account of the battle at Jericho where, carrying out God’s command, Joshua and his troops kill all the inhabitants of the city, sparing none, and take their wealth. The result was that 66 percent of the children gave total approval of Joshua’s conduct, 26 percent total disapproval, and 8 percent partial approval. Then, a different group of children were presented with the identical story, only this time replacing Joshua’s name with “General Lin” and replacing the word “Israel” with “a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago.” The result this time was that only 7 percent of the children approved of General Lin’s conduct, whereas 75 percent disapproved. Dawkins concludes,

when their loyalty to Judaism was removed from the calculation, the majority of the children agreed with the moral judgments that most modern humans would share. Joshua’s action was a deed of barbaric genocide. But it all looks different from a religious point of view. And the difference starts early in life. It was religion that made the difference between children condemning genocide and condoning it.12

Religion, Dawkins argues, has justified many types of conduct that, in more enlightened times, we recognize as immoral. Religion gives people a misguided loyalty toward members of their own in-group, and fosters suspicion and hostil- ity toward outsiders. He writes, “I am not necessarily claiming that atheism increases morality, although humanism—the ethical system that often goes with atheism—probably does.”13

It’s true that we can easily pick out morally archaic views in all of the world’s religions. Their sacred texts are centuries if not thousands of years old, and they record value systems from a much earlier time in human history. The question isn’t so much what those religious texts say about moral issues, but how religious traditions have interpreted them, and whether those interpretations have kept up with evolving standards of social justice. Although some religious traditions have not kept pace, others have done so much better. Further, in many situations it may not be so much the religion that is to blame for perpetuating immorality, but a larger social and political environment of which the religion is just one part. The above study of Israeli children is a case in point. Other aspects of the same study were tied directly to the current Arab–Israeli political conflict, and thus the study may be a better reflection of how Israeli children feel about

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their Arab neighbors than it is of their attitudes about God endorsing genocide. Religion is a complex and multilayered social phenomenon, which can make it difficult to assign blame to it in the way that Dawkins does.

Nowell-Smith and Rachels: Religion Conflicts with

Moral Autonomy

Like Hume, many contemporary secular philosophers have also argued that reli- gion gives rise to an inferior morality. Two notable examples are P. H. Nowell- Smith and James Rachels, both of whom base their contention on the notion of autonomy. Nowell-Smith’s argument is founded on child psychologist Jean Piaget’s research in child development: Very small children have to be taught to value rules. When they do, they tend to hold tenaciously to those rules, even when games or activities would seem to call for a suspension of the rules. For example, suppose ten children are to play baseball on a rectangular lot that lacks a right field. Some children might object to playing with only five on a side and no right field, because that violates the official rules. Religious morality, in being rule-governed, is analogous to the children who have not understood the wider purposes of the rules of games; it is an infantile morality.14

Rachels’s argument alleges that believers relinquish their autonomy in worship and so are immoral. Using Kant’s dictum that “Kneeling down or groveling on the ground, even to express your reverence for heavenly things, is contrary to human dignity,” he argues that since we have inherent dignity, no one deserves our worship. But, since the notion of God implies “being worthy of worship,” God cannot exist. Rachels writes

1. If any being is God, he must be a fitting object of worship.

2. No being could possibly be a fitting object of worship, since worship requires the abandonment of one’s role as an autonomous moral agent.

3. Therefore, there cannot be any being who is God.15

Are Nowell-Smith’s and Rachels’s arguments sound? They seem to have problems. Consider Nowell-Smith’s contention that religious morality is infan- tile: Perhaps some religious people and some secularists as well are rigidly and unreasonably rule-bound, but not all religious people are. Indeed, Jesus himself broke the rule regarding not working on the Sabbath day, to heal and do good, reprimanding his critics, the Pharisees, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Does not the strong love motif in New Testament religious morality indicates that the rules are seen as serving a purpose—the human good?

With regard to Rachels’s argument, premise 2 seems false. In worshipping God, you need not give up your reason, your essential autonomy. Doesn’t a rational believer need to use reason to distinguish the good from the bad, the holy from what is not holy? A mature believer does not (or need not) sacrifice his or her reason or autonomy in worship; rather, these traits are part and parcel of what worship entails. The command to love God is for one to love him with

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one’s whole mind as well as one’s heart and strength. If there is a God, he must surely want us to be intelligent and discriminating and sensitive in all of our deliberations. Being a religious worshipper in no way entails or condones intel- lectual suicide.

Of course, a believer may submit his or her judgment to God’s when there is good evidence that God has given a judgment. If this is sacrificing one’s auton- omy, then it only shows that autonomy is not an absolute value but rather a significant prima facie value. If I am working in the physics laboratory with Albert Einstein, whom I have learned to trust as a competent authority, and he advises me to do something different from what my amateur calculations dictate, I am likely to defer to his authority. But I do not thereby give up my autonomy. I freely and rationally judge that in this particular matter I ought to defer to Einstein’s judgment on the grounds that it is more likely to be correct. Function- ing autonomously is not to be equated with deciding each case from scratch; nor does it require self-sufficiency in decision-making. Autonomy is a higher-order reflective control over one’s life. This means that in certain kinds of cases some- one else’s opinion may more likely be correct than one’s own. In that case, following the other person’s opinion would be an exercise of autonomy rather than an abdication of it.16 Similarly, the believer may submit to God whenever he or she judges God’s authority to override his or her own finite judgment. It seems eminently rational to give up that kind of autonomy. To do otherwise would be to make autonomy a foolhardy fetish.

DOES REL IG ION ENHANCE THE MORAL L IFE?

So far we’ve seen that the case for morality’s dependence on religion is weak, as also is the secularist’s case for the view that true morality is incompatible with religion. Both of these claims are rather extreme, and it is no surprise that they defy conclusive proof. Let’s now raise a more modest question: Does religion at least enhance the moral life?

The Case for Religion

Theists argue that there are at least six ways in which morality may be enriched by religion.

First, if there is a God, good will win out over evil. We are not fighting alone— God is on our side in the battle. Neither are we fighting in vain—we’ll win eventually. As William James (1842–1910) said,

If religion be true and the evidence for it be still insufficient, I do not wish, by putting your extinguisher upon my nature, to forfeit my sole chance in life of getting upon the winning side—that chance depending, of course, on my willingness to run the risk of acting as if my passional need of taking the world religiously might be prophetic and right.17

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This thought of the ultimate Victory of Goodness gives us confidence to go on in the fight against injustice and cruelty when others calculate that the odds against righteousness are too great to oppose. While the secularist may embrace a noble stoicism, resigned to fate, as Russell asserts, the believer lives in faith, confident of the final triumph of the kingdom of God on earth.

Second, if God exists, then cosmic justice reigns in the universe. The scales are perfectly balanced so that everyone will eventually get what he or she deserves, according to their moral merit. It is true that in most religious traditions God forgives the repentant sinner his or her sins—in which case divine grace goes beyond what is strictly deserved. It’s as though a merciful God will never give us less reward than we deserve, but if we have a good will, God will give us more than we deserve.

Nonetheless, the idea that “whatsoever a man sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7) is emphasized in Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and most other world religions. In Hinduism, it is carried out with a rigorous logic of karma. That is, what you are now is a direct result of what you did in a previous life, and what you do with your life now will determine what kind of life you inherit in the next life.

The question that haunts secular ethics—“Why should I be moral, when I can get away with being immoral?” (for often it seems that we can profit by being immoral)—has a ready answer: I will not get away with immorality. God is the perfect judge who will bring my works to judgment so that my good works will be rewarded and my bad works punished. The good really is good for us.

Third, if theism is true, moral reasons always override nonmoral reasons. Let me illustrate this controversy: I once had an argument with my teacher Philippa Foot, of Oxford University, over the Gauguin case. Paul Gauguin abandoned his family and moved to Paris and then to Tahiti to fulfill his artistic dream. I argued that Gauguin did wrong, all things considered, to abandon his family. Foot, however, to my utter amazement, argued that although Gauguin did what was morally wrong, he did what was right, all things considered, for some- times nonmoral reasons override moral ones. From a secular perspective, Foot’s argument seems plausible: Why should moral reasons always override nonmoral ones? Here is the dilemma for secular ethics: either overridingness or objectivity, but not both. If you believe in the objectivity of ethics, the idea that moral principles are universally valid whether or not anyone recognizes them, then the secularist is faced with the question “Why should I adhere to a given moral principle when I can get away with violating it?” If you hold to overridingness— that is, if you believe that moral reasons are always the highest motivating reasons, the best reasons all things considered—then it seems likely that you will adopt some sort of agent-relativity with regard to morals. From a religious perspec- tive, however, the world is so ordered that the question “Why be moral?” can hardly be taken seriously: To be moral is to function properly, the way God intended us to live, and he will see that the good are ultimately rewarded and the wicked punished. God ensures the supremacy of morality. Moral reasons always override other reasons. We preserve both overridingness and objectivity.

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Fourth, if theism is true, then there is a God who loves and cares for us—his love inspires us. If God exists, love really makes the world go round. You and I have a heavenly father who cares for us and is working for our good. A sense of grati- tude pervades the life of the believer so that he or she is ready to make greater sacrifices for the good of others. That is, the believer has an added reason to be moral, beyond the ones a secular person already has, beyond even rewards and punishments: He or she wants to please a perfect God. Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian founder of Islamic terror and the Al Qaeda movement, complained that the West, especially the United States, had become an immoral, decadent, hedonistic, selfish civilization. Without a strong sense of God’s love, we misuse our wealth and freedom for selfish, destructive purposes.

Fifth, if there is a God who created us in his image, all persons are of equal worth. Theism claims that God values us all equally. If we are all his children, then we are all brothers and sisters; we are family and ought to treat one another benevo- lently as we would as family members of equal worth. Indeed, modern secular moral and political systems often assume the equal worth of the individual without justifying it. But without the parenthood of God, it makes no sense to say that all persons are innately of positive equal value. What gives us animals, the products of a process of the survival of the fittest, any value at all, let alone equal value? From a perspective of intelligence and utility, Aristotle and Nietzsche seem to be right; there are enormous inequalities, and why shouldn’t the superior persons use the baser types to their advantage? In this regard, secularism, in rejecting inegalitarian- ism, seems to be living off the interest on a religious capital that it has relinquished.

If theism is false, then it may be doubtful whether all humans have equal worth or any worth at all, and it may be more difficult to provide an unequivo- cal response to the question “Why be moral even when it is not in my best interest?” If there is no sense of harmony and objective purpose in the universe, many of us will conclude that we are sadder and poorer because of it.

Sixth, if God exists, we have a compelling solution to the posterity problem. We have noted in previous chapters that it is difficult to give an adequate explanation of our intuition that we have obligations to future generations.

Suppose in forty or fifty or one hundred years from now people on earth collectively do a cost–benefit assessment and unanimously decide that life is not worth its inherent suffering and boredom. Perhaps people become tired of their technological toys and fail to find anything worth living for, so they decide to commit collective suicide. Would this be immoral? If you don’t like the idea of suicide, suppose they all take a drug that will bring ecstatic happiness but has a side effect of rendering them permanently sterile—and they knowingly take it. The result in either case would be the end of humanity. Again, I ask, have these people done anything immoral? Have they violated anyone’s rights?

The philosopher Joel Feinberg, in a pioneering article, responded to this question this way:

“My inclination … is to conclude that the suicide of our species would be deplorable, lamentable, and a deeply moving tragedy, but that it would violate no one’s rights. Indeed if, contrary to fact, all human

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beings could ever agree to such a thing, that very agreement would be a symptom of our species’ biological unsuitability for survival anyway.”18

Notice that this problem is not like normal cases of suicide. We can sometimes argue that suicide is immoral because the people contemplating it have responsibili- ties to others who will be harmed by the suicide. For example, the parent who decides to end his or her life may have an overriding obligation to care for the chil- dren who will be orphaned or who will suffer the shock of dealing with the suicide of a parent. In this case, however, there are no children who will be left behind. As soon as they come of age, they too agree to die or not to procreate. And there’s no one else whose identity needs to be taken into account—or so it seems. Future people cannot be consulted, of course, because they do not exist and therefore can- not be identified.

Religion gives us two reasons to care for future generations: The first is because God commands us to continue the race. But religious believers have a second special reason to care for future people: God knows who will be born and loves these people as if they already existed. For God, the whole temporal span of the world’s existence is good. In serving God as good stewards, we have a duty to him to be good to the earth, which includes leaving it healthy for future people who will be born and who are already loved by God. But all this, of course, supposes that God exists.

Add to these six theses the fact that theism doesn’t deprive us of any of the autonomy that we have in nontheistic systems. If we are equally free to choose the good or the evil whether or not God exists (assuming that the notions of good and evil make sense in a nontheistic universe), then it seems plausible to assert that in some ways the world of the theist is better and more satisfying than one in which God does not exist. It could also be the case that through revelation the theist has access to deeper moral truths that are not available to the secularist.

The Case against Religion

The other side of the issue is that religion does not enhance morality but detracts from it, and as a consequence religious morality makes the world a worse place than it would have been otherwise. We’ll consider five arguments for this position.

First, a lot of evil has been done by religious people in the name of religion. We have only to look at our sordid history of heresy hunts, religious bigotry, and religious wars, some of which are still being fought. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in which nearly 3,000 innocent people lost their lives and the subsequent suicide bomb- ing attacks in Madrid and elsewhere were faith initiatives, revolting exhibitions of Muslim fanaticism. Osama bin Laden was videotaped giving thanks to Allah for his toppling the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Religion may be used as a powerful weapon for good as well as evil. In the hands of Mother Teresa or Father Kolbe, it can transform darkness into light, but in the hands of fanatics, like misguided suicide bombers or destroyers of abortion clinics, it can transform light into darkness.

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Second, we don’t know for sure whether a benevolent God exists. The arguments for the existence of God are not obviously compelling. Furthermore, even if a divine being exists, we do not have the kind of compelling evidence needed to prove that our interpretation of God’s will and ways is the right one. Religion is based largely on faith rather than on hard evidence, so it behooves believers to be modest about their policies. It would seem that most of us are more certain about the core of our morality than about the central doctrines of theology. So, it is ill-advised to require society to give up a morality based on reason for some commands based on revelation. Sometimes, a religious authority claims to put forth a command that conflicts with our best rational judgments, giving rise to the kind of confrontation that can rip society apart.

Third, religious morality closes off dialogue. Religious morality usually consists of more than just a theoretical conviction that God is behind moral standards. It also comes with specific moral stands that religious authorities take on a range of issues such as premarital sex, contraception, homosexuality, cloning, and capi- tal punishment. The usual secular approach to debating these issues is to consider a range of questions such as “What are the benefits of a particular moral policy? Who is harmed? Are rights violated?” With religious morality, though, the dia- logue is quickly cut off with appeals to the doctrines of one’s religious tradition that override all other considerations. The abortion debate today is a clear exam- ple of this, particularly when believers defend the special moral status of the fetus on purely religious grounds. There is no opportunity for real debate or compro- mise as there may be when nonreligious considerations are explored.

Fourth, religious morality leads to group intolerance. Organized religions are by their very nature exclusive groups with members on the inside and nonmembers on the outside. Further, morality by its very nature is judgmental: We praise and condemn people for their moral and immoral behavior. Religious morality mixes these two factors, thus potentially creating a groupwide moral intolerance toward dissenting outsiders. Many groups and organizations have differences of opinion with their respective outsiders—including groups such as the Rotary Club or the YMCA. The difference here is that religious morality involves a moral condem- nation by the in-group toward dissenters from the out-group. It in essence licenses them to express moral indignation against the dissenters in the name of that religion. History records countless examples of intolerance of one religious group toward another, including the Medieval Crusades and the Inquisition; the religious wars of the Reformation period; the present religious conflict in Northern Ireland between Roman Catholics and Protestants; the devastation of the former Yugoslavia, where Christians and Muslims killed each other; the Hindu–Muslim massacres in India; and the Ayatollah Khomeini’s order to kill author Salman Rushdie for writing his allegedly blasphemous book Satanic Verses.

Fifth, religious morality threatens church–state separation. Related to the previous point, dogmatic and intolerant religion deeply and rightly worries the secularist who sees religion as a threat to society and insists on a strong separation of church and state. Throughout most of the world’s civilizations an official state religion was the norm, and it is only in recent centuries that progressive countries have broken from that mold. Although a state religion might be a good thing for

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devoted believers of that faith, it is not so good for those outside the mainstream. Religious morality threatens church–state separation when the moral agendas of religious organizations obstruct political efforts to transform society.

Our hope in solving such problems rests in working out an adequate moral- ity on which theists and nontheists alike can agree. If there is an ethics of belief, then we can apply rational scrutiny to our religious beliefs as well as to all our other beliefs and work toward a better understanding of the status of our belief systems. It is a challenge that should inspire the best minds because it may turn out that it is not science or technology but rather deep, comprehensive ethical theory and moral living that will not only save our world but solve its perennial problems and produce a state of flourishing.

CONCLUS ION

We asked whether morality depends on religion. We examined whether moral standards themselves depend on God for their validity or whether there is an independence of ethics so that even God is subject to the moral order. Does God command what is good because it is good, or is the good good because God commands it? We saw that the independence thesis was correct. God, if he exists, loves the good because of its intrinsic value. Morality has independent value so that moral truth exists whether or not God does. We argued that although religious ethics are not essentially different from secular ethics, religion can enhance the moral life by providing motivating reasons to be moral.

NOTES

1. Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, quoted in Jonathan Wynne-Jones, “Floods Are Judgment on Society, Say Bishops,” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

2. Plato, Euthyphro, trans. W. Jowett (New York: Scribner, 1889).

3. Carl F. Henry, Christian Personal Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1957), p. 210.

4. William of Ockham, quoted in J. M. Idziak, ed., Divine Command Morality (New York: Edwin Mellon Press, 1979).

5. William Lane Craig sets forth this argument in a debate with Paul Draper at the U.S. Military Academy, September 30, 1997.

6. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. J. Bernard (New York: Haefner, 1951), p. 410, and Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics, trans. T. K. Abbott (London: Longmans, Green, 1898), Sec. 2.

7. Bertrand Russell, ed., “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?” in Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957).

8. Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Why I Am Not a Christian.

9. George Mavrodes, “Religion and the Queerness of Morality,” in Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Issues, ed. L. Pojman (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2007), p. 539.

10. David Hume, The Natural History of Religion (1757), Sec. 13 and 14.

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11. Ibid., Sec. 14.

12. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), Ch. 7.

13. Ibid., Ch. 6.

14. Patrick H. Nowell-Smith, “Morality: Religious and Secular,” in Philosophy of Religion, ed. L. Pojman (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003), pp. 550–560.

15. James Rachels, “God and Human Attitudes,” Religious Studies 7 (1971), pp. 325–337.

16. See Arthur Kuflik, “The Inalienability of Autonomy,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 13 (Fall 1984), pp. 271–298.

17. William James, The Will to Believe (London: Longmans, Green, 1897).

18. Joel Feinberg, “The Rights of Animals and Unborn Generations,” in Philosophy and Environmental Crisis, ed. W. Blackstone (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1974).

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Evaluate Leo Tolstoy’s statement in his essay “Religion and Morality” (1893): “The attempts to found a morality apart from religion are like the attempts of children who, wishing to transplant a flower that pleases them, pluck it from the roots that seem to them unpleasing and superfluous, and stick it rootless into the ground. Without religion there can be no real, sincere morality, just as without roots there can be no real flower.”

2. Evaluate the divine command theory (DCT). What are its strengths and weak- nesses? What is the independence thesis, and how does it relate to the DCT?

3. How would a secularist respond to the six claims made in favor of religion’s ability to give added meaning to morality? Do you think that religion really does enhance the moral life? Explain your answer.

4. Karl Marx said that religion was the opium of the people (today, the meta- phor might better be changed to “cocaine” or “crack”): It deludes them into thinking that all will be well with the world, leading to passive acceptance of evil and injustice. Is there some truth in Marx’s dictum? (Explain your answer.) How would a theist respond to this?

5. Imagine that a superior being appears to you and says, “I am God and I am good; therefore, obey me when I tell you to torture your mother.” How would a proponent of the divine command theory deal with this problem?

6. Some religious people believe that abortion or homosexual behavior is morally wrong, based on religious authority. How should a secular ethicist who believes that these practices are not morally wrong argue with the believer? Can there be a rational dialogue? Explain your answer.

7. Examine the claim that theism provides a compelling solution to the posterity problem. Do you agree with this? Discuss your answer.

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13

The Fact–Value Problem

Consider the following moral attack from an online blog:

How could he hold such an immoral view?! It’s outrageous, and the very idea fills me with disgust! This is the sort of thing that drags our whole society down into the deepest, stench-filled mire of debauchery! Such wickedness can only be described as repugnant, hideous and nau- seating, and those who advocate it are mere living garbage! They are slime! There’s a special place in the afterlife for this guy and his cohorts, and it’s called hell!!! IMHO, of course 😉

The above quote does not mention the specific moral issue that ignited the author’s indignation, and in many ways it doesn’t matter. Whether the issue is abortion, euthanasia, sexual morality, or capital punishment, rants like this are pervasive in discussions of moral issues in the media and in personal dialogue.

What’s most interesting about the above quote is that the writer does not appear to say anything factual. We see plenty of harsh judgment and emotion, but the entire angry outburst reduces to the simple contention that “X is immoral.” Even when our rhetoric isn’t as charged as this author’s, our moral assessments are frequently not really factual judgments. There certainly are a number of factual elements that set the stage for our moral assessments: the fact that someone had an abortion, the fact that someone was executed, the fact that someone’s behavior caused harm and suffering. But when it comes to the actual moral assessment itself, there appears to be a huge gap between the facts of the case and the value assessment that we make of it. When we claim that something is a fact, we imply that some object or state of affairs exists. When we make a value assessment, we are evaluating or appraising something in a way that differs from factual or logical judgment. Moral philosophers today call this the fact– value problem—the problem of determining whether values are essentially

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different from facts, whether moral assessments are derived from facts, and whether moral statements can be true or false like factual statements.

The method of inquiry used to address the fact–value problem is known as metaethics—philosophizing about the very terms of ethics and considering the structure of ethics as an object of inquiry. Whereas traditional philosophers mainly attempted to systematically describe the correct moral theory, many con- temporary philosophers have been concerned with the metaethical functions of ethical terms, the status of moral judgments, and the relation of ethical judgments to nonethical factual statements. The central questions here are these: “What, if anything, is the meaning of the terms good and right?” and “How, if at all, can we justify our moral beliefs?” In this chapter, we explore the fact–value problem and the metaethical issues that it raises.

HUME AND MOORE : THE PROBLEM

CLASS ICALLY STATED

While the fact–value problem is a centerpiece of debate today among philoso- phers, the issue was forecasted in earlier times by two British philosophers: David Hume and George Edward Moore. Let’s look at each of their accounts and what they contributed to the ongoing discussion.

Hume: The Fallacy of Deriving Ought from Is

The story begins with David Hume (1711–1776), who while in his mid- twenties, was finishing his monumental book, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739). In the last portion of this, he turned his eye toward standard ethical ques- tions of his time, many of which we’ve already explored: moral objectivism, egoism, social contract theory, natural law theory, and religious morality. While examining these standard accounts of morality, he realized that they all make a fundamental mistake. Specifically, these theories begin by observing some spe- cific facts about the world, and then they conclude from these some statements about our moral obligation. In his words, they move from statements about what is the case to statements about what ought to be the case. This is called the fallacy of deriving ought from is.

He describes this fallacy in the following famous passage:

In every system of morality which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes obser- vations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not.1

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According to Hume, we find this fallacy in both ordinary and sophisticated the- ories of morality. Here are examples of ordinary ones that he might have in mind:

■ God exists; therefore, we should obey God’s moral commands. ■ God will punish and reward us in the afterlife; therefore, we should behave

morally. ■ People are sociable creatures; therefore, we should behave morally. ■ Without rules, society would fall into chaos; therefore, we should behave

morally.

In each of these, there is a statement of fact that then moves to a value judgment. Here are examples of two sophisticated moral theories that he specifically men- tions that exhibit the same movement from fact to value:

■ Through reason we can detect eternal truths about fit behavior; therefore, we should behave morally as informed by our reason.

■ There is a kind of sixth sense that detects inappropriate conduct; therefore, we should behave morally as informed by this sixth sense.

The problem with all of these is not necessarily with the facts at the beginning of each statement; it is with the transition to the moral component at each state- ment’s end. Something new is added at the end of the sentence (an “ought”) that is not contained in the beginning (an “is”). He makes this point here:

This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affir- mation, it is necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar sys- tems of morality, and let us see that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.2

Thus, we cannot derive “ought” from “is” through any type of rational or factual inference. The mistake, according to Hume, is the assumption that moral judgments are rational deductions of the sort that we might use in math, logic, or science. Hume’s solution to the is–ought problem is that moral assessments are not rational inferences at all. Rather, they are emotional reactions—feelings of pleasure and pain that we experience in response to witnessing or hearing about some event. Suppose we witness some concrete “fact” such as a vengeful, cold-blooded killing. We don’t then rationally infer that it is wrong; instead, we feel that it is wrong. The feeling is what introduces the new and distinctly moral element.

Hume’s theory impacted contemporary moral theory in two ways. First, the fallacy of deriving ought from is illuminates a critical difference between facts that

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we know through rational observation and inference, and values that come to us in a different way. This is the basic idea behind the fact–value problem as we discuss it today. Second, Hume’s theory that moral assessments are feelings and not rational judgments has inspired several contemporary philosophers to equate moral utterances with emotional expressions. Today we call this position emotivism.

Moore: The Naturalistic Fallacy

In 1903, George Edward Moore published his Principia Ethica,3 which inspired an ongoing inquiry among contemporary ethicists into such metaethical issues as the meaning of ethical terms and the relation of facts to values.

Moore begins his book by announcing that philosophers have been entangled in ethical problems largely because they have not clearly defined the territory of ethics and determined the kinds of questions that philosophers can properly ask about the subject. Ethics clearly involves the practical task of arriv- ing at decision-making procedures for morally good behavior. But before doing this, Moore argues, we need to discover the meaning of the term good itself. In fact, the foundation of ethics is an understanding of the term good:

That which is meant by “good” is, in fact, except its converse “bad,” the only simple object of thought which is peculiar to Ethics. … Unless this first question be fully understood, and its true answer clearly rec- ognized, the rest of Ethics is as good as useless from the point of view of systematic knowledge.

Philosophers in the past had also recognized the need to understand the meaning of the notion “good,” and they attempted to define it in various ways. Utilitarians equated it with pleasure; Kant equated it with a person’s ratio- nal will; evolutionary ethicists equated it with the notion of “being more evolved.” According to Moore, however, all these theories are wrong for the basic reason that the notion “good” cannot be defined. In fact, Moore argues that it is a fallacy to identify “good” with any specific natural property such as “pleasure” or “being more evolved,” and he calls this the naturalistic fallacy.

The reason why “good” is indefinable is because it is a simple property—that is, a property that has no parts and thus cannot be defined by constituent ele- ments. For example, the color yellow is a simple property, which you cannot explain to anyone who does not already know what yellow is. Contrast this with a complex concept like “horse,” which we can define in terms of constitu- ent elements: It’s a large mammalian animal, with an odd number of toes on its hooves. “Good” is like the simple notion of “yellow” (and not like the complex notion of “horse”). We intuitively recognize moral goodness when we see it, but it completely defies definition.

Moore offers a test to help us determine whether a moral theory commits the naturalistic fallacy, a test called the open-question argument. In its simplest form, the open-question argument is that for any property that we identify with “goodness,” we can ask, “Is that property itself good?” For example, if I identify

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“goodness” as maximizing pleasure, the question can be asked, “Is maximizing pleasure itself good?” Because this question makes sense, it means that “maximiz- ing pleasure” and “goodness” are not truly identical. To illustrate, let’s start with the following innocent statement:

S1 Charity is good.

Following utilitarians, let’s now define goodness as “maximizing pleasure.” Our innocent statement now becomes this:

S2 Charity maximizes pleasure.

Suppose we carry the investigation further and ask ourselves the following question:

Q1 Is it good to maximize pleasure through charity?

According to Moore, this shows “clearly that we have two different notions before our mind”—namely, the notion of “good” on the one hand and the property of “maximizing pleasure” on the other. The whole problem starts when we attempt to identify “goodness” with some natural property (such as “maximizing pleasure”), rather than just accepting the fact that goodness is a sim- ple and indefinable quality.

Like Hume’s fallacy of deriving ought from is, Moore’s naturalistic fallacy is another way of articulating the fact–value problem. According to Moore, the value of “goodness” cannot be identified with facts like “maximizing pleasure” and “being more evolved.” There is instead a gap between facts and values.

Moore’s own solution to the problem was that we can intuitively recognize the presence of value (goodness) within facts (maximizing pleasure). Thus, char- ity may indeed maximize pleasure, and we can intuitively see goodness in it. However, it is one thing to recognize that goodness accompanies the maximizing of pleasure and quite another to identify goodness with the maximizing of plea- sure. Regardless of how many things we intuitively recognize as being accompa- nied by moral goodness, there will always be a gap between the facts that we examine and the value that we find within them.

AYER AND EMOTIV ISM

The next player in the story is Alfred Jules Ayer (1910–1989), who was influ- enced both by Hume’s and Moore’s presentation of the fact–value problem. Hume and Moore each showed two things. First, they explained why there is a fact–value problem; second, they offered solutions to the problem by showing what moral value really is. For Hume, the problem involves the fallacy of deriv- ing ought from is, and his solution is that moral value rests on emotional reac- tions. For Moore, the problem involves the naturalistic fallacy, and his solution involves intuitively recognizing moral goodness within things.

Ayer also takes this two-pronged approach. First, he argues that the fact– value problem arises because moral statements cannot pass a critical test of

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meaning called the verification principle. Second, expanding on Hume, his solution is that moral utterances are only expressions of feelings, a position called emoti- vism. Let’s look at each of these components.

Ayer’s Theory

Regarding the verification principle, in the 1930s, Ayer went to Vienna to study with a group of philosophers called the “Logical Positivists,” who believed that the meaning of a sentence is found in its method of verification. According to that test, all meaningful sentences must be either

(a) Tautologies (statements that are true by definition and of the form “A is A” or reducible to such statements) or

(b) Empirically verifiable (statements regarding observations about the world, such as “The book is red”).

Based on this test, mathematical statements are meaningful, such as all triangles have three sides, because they are tautologies. The statement “The Empire State Building is in New York City” is meaningful because it is empirically verifiable.

What, though, about value statements such as “Charity is good”? According to the above test, they are meaningless because they are neither tautologies nor verifiable statements. That is, it is not true by definition that charity is good, and there is no way to empirically verify whether charity is good. Similarly, accord- ing to the above test, a theological statement such as “God is guiding your life” is meaningless because it is neither a tautology nor empirically verifiable. Ayer makes his point about the meaninglessness of value utterances here:

[T]he fundamental ethical concepts are unanalyzable, inasmuch as there is no criterion by which one can test the validity of the judgments in which they occur. … The reason why they are unanalyzable is that they are mere pseudo-concepts. The presence of an ethical symbol in a proposition adds nothing to its factual content. Thus if I say to someone, “You acted wrongly in stealing that money,” I am not stating anything more than if I had simply said, “You stole that money.” In adding that the action is wrong, I am not making any further statement about it.4

His argument is essentially this:

(1) A sentence is meaningful if and only if it can be verified.

(2) Moral sentences cannot be verified.

(3) Therefore, moral sentences are not meaningful.

Thus, there is a fact–value problem insofar as moral utterances fail the verification test and are not factual statements.

Ayer’s solution to the fact–value problem is that moral utterances function in a special nonfactual way. Although they are indeed factually meaningless, they are not just gibberish. For Ayer, utterances such as “Charity is good” express our positive feelings about charity in much the same way as if we shouted out

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“Charity—hooray!” Similarly, the utterance “Murder is wrong” expresses our negative feelings about murder just as if we shouted “Murder—boo!” The view that moral utterances merely express our feelings is called emotivism. Ayer emphasizes that moral utterances don’t even report our feelings; they just express our feelings. Here’s the difference:

■ Reported feeling: “Charity is good”means “I have positive feelings about charity.” ■ Expressed feeling: “Charity is good” means “Charity—hooray!”

Even reports of feelings are in some sense factual: It is either true or false that “I have positive feelings about charity,” and I can empirically verify this with a psychological analysis of my mental state. However, the emotional expression “Charity—hooray!” is like a grunt or a sigh; there is nothing to factually report.

Philosophers have introduced two terms to distinguish between factual and nonfactual utterances: cognitive and noncognitive. When a statement has factual content, it is cognitive: We can know (or “cognize”) its truth value—whether it is true or false. When a statement lacks factual content, it is noncognitive: It has no truth value. Traditional moral theories all claim to be cognitivist: They all claim that moral statements have truth value. Here is how four traditional theories would give a cognitivist interpretation of the moral utterance “Charity is good”:

■ Egoism: Charity maximizes self-interest. ■ Utilitarianism: Charity maximizes general pleasure. ■ Kantianism: Charity is a rational duty. ■ Virtue theory: Charity promotes human flourishing.

Moore’s emotivist solution to the fact–value problem is also cognitivist because for him “Charity is good” means “Charity has the indefinable property of moral goodness” (which, according to Moore, we know to be true through moral intuition). For Ayer, all these cognitivist theories are misguided. Because moral utterances like “Charity is good” do not pass the test for meaning by the verification principle, they cannot be cognitive. The content that they have is only noncognitive and takes the form of expressing our feelings.

Ayer’s account of emotivism directly attacks many of our cherished assumptions about morality. We typically think that moral utterances are factually meaningful— not so according to Ayer. We typically think that morality involves some use of our reasoning ability—again, not so for Ayer. What’s perhaps most unsettling about Ayer’s theory is its implication that ethical disagreement is fundamentally a disagree- ment in attitude. Suppose you and I disagree about whether abortion is morally per- missible and we debate the issue—in a civilized way without any emotional outbursts. In Ayer’s view, this is still simply a matter of us having underlying emo- tional attitudes that conflict; it is not really a disagreement about facts of the matter.

Criticisms of Emotivism

Several objections to Ayer’s emotivism were quickly forthcoming after the appearance of his book. A first criticism was that the verification theory of

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meaning, upon which Ayer’s emotivism was founded, had serious problems. Specifically, it did not pass its own test. Here in brief is the principle:

Verification principle: A statement is meaningful if and only if it is either tautological or empirically verifiable.

We now ask the question, “Is the verification principle itself either tautolog- ical or empirically verifiable?” The answer is that it is not, which means that the verification principle is meaningless. If that’s the case, then we are not obliged to use the verification principle as a test for moral utterances. The rest of Ayer’s emotivist analysis of morality thus falls apart.

Second, there is a problem with the emotivist view that ethical disagree- ments are fundamentally disagreements in attitude. Specifically, this blurs an important distinction between having reasons for changing attitudes and having causes that change our attitudes. Suppose again that you and I are debating the abortion issue. Consider now two methods of resolving our dispute. Method 1 involves you giving me a series of reasons in support of your position, and I eventually agree with you. Method 2 involves a surgeon operating on my brain in a way that alters my emotional attitude about the abortion issue. Method 1 involves reasons behind my changed view, and Method 2 involves causes for my changed view. The emotivist theory cannot easily distinguish between these two methods of attitude change. One way or another, according to emotivism, changes in attitude will come only through some kind of causal manipulation with our emotions. This is a problem because virtually everyone would agree that there is a major difference between what is going on in Method 1 and Method 2, and it is only the former that is a legitimate way of resolving moral disagreements.

Third, morality seems deeper than mere emotions or acting on feelings or attitudes. Moral judgments are universalizable: If it is wrong for Jill to steal, then it is wrong for anyone relevantly similar to Jill to steal. Emotivism reduces morality to isolated emotive expressions or attitudes that don’t apply universally. It makes more sense to see morality as a function of applying principles such as “It is wrong to steal,” which has a universal element.

Ayer’s version of emotivism is rather extreme, and it is no surprise that it creates so many problems. A more moderate version of emotivism was later pro- posed by Charles Leslie Stevenson (1908–1979) in his book Ethics and Language (1944).5 Stevenson agrees that moral utterances have an emotive component that is noncognitive. However, he argues that moral utterances sometimes have cog- nitive elements too. Moral utterances are so complex, Stevenson says, that we cannot give a specific pattern that applies to all moral utterances all the time.

Nevertheless, a typical moral utterance like “Charity is good” might have these specific components:

■ Emotive expression (noncognitive): “Charity—hooray!” ■ Report about feelings (cognitive): “I approve of charity.” ■ Description of other qualities (cognitive): “Charity has qualities or relations X, Y,

and Z” (for example, reduces suffering, reduces social inequality).

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Stevenson’s suggestion is reasonable. If we are unhappy with Ayer’s extreme emotivism, we can still accept that there is some noncognitive emotive element to moral utterances. Indeed, considering how frequently emotion enters into our moral evaluations, such as the opening example from the Weblog, we will want to recognize at least a more limited role of emotive expressions within moral discussions.

HARE AND PRESCR IPT IV ISM

Ayer is most famous for the emotivist theory that we’ve just examined. How- ever, in Language, Truth, and Logic, he discusses a second noncognitivist element of moral utterances, namely their prescriptive function: They recommend or command that others adopt our attitude. Ayer describes this here:

It is worth mentioning that ethical terms do not serve only to express feeling. They are calculated also to arouse feeling, and so to stimulate action. Indeed some of them are used in such a way as to give the sen- tences in which they occur the effect of commands. Thus the sentence “It is your duty to tell the truth” may be regarded both as the expression of a certain sort of ethical feeling about truthfulness and as the expres- sion of the command “Tell the truth.”6

Like the emotive component of moral utterances, the prescriptive element is also nonfactual: It does not say anything true or false about the world but instead urges people to behave in certain ways. It is a bit like me gently poking you with a stick to get you to move along. Thus, according to Ayer, the moral utter- ance “Charity is good” has these two noncognitive elements:

■ Emotive: “Charity—hooray!” ■ Prescriptive: “Be charitable!”

The philosopher whose name is most associated with the prescriptive com- ponent of moral utterances is Richard Mervyn Hare (1919–2002), particularly in his book The Language of Morals (1952).7 Hare acknowledges the fact–value gap brought out by Moore and Ayer. He also agrees with Ayer that we cannot ascribe truth or falsity to moral statements and that moral assessments are attitu- dinal. His focus, though, is more on the prescriptive element rather than the emotive one. According to Hare, there are four important features about moral judgments: (1) They are prescriptive, (2) they exhibit logical relations, (3) they are universalizable, and (4) they involve principles. Let’s examine each of these.

Prescriptivity

According to Hare, moral judgments have both a descriptive (fact) and prescrip- tive (value) element. The descriptive element involves the facts about a particular action, such as “Charity maximizes pleasure.” The prescriptive element is

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conduct guiding and recommends that others adopt our value attitude. For Hare, when making moral judgments, the prescriptive element is added on to the descriptive one; further, of the two elements, the prescriptive is more important than the descriptive. The reason is that our factual descriptions about things can change. One day we might describe charity as maximizing pleasure. The next we might describe it as exhibiting more evolved behavior or reflecting the will of God. However, the prescriptive element remains the same, regardless of how our descriptions change: We are recommending that others adopt our attitude toward X when we say that “X is good.”

To illustrate this distinction between the descriptive and prescriptive ele- ments, suppose I say of a particular automobile that it is a “good” car. I mean that it has certain characteristics: It doesn’t often break down, it isn’t rusted, it will go over 50 miles per hour, it gets at least 30 miles per gallon of gasoline, it serves its owner well for several years, and so forth. But I need not call all of this good. I could just as well describe my car item by item. Putting the adjective good next to the noun car simply means that I, like most people, would commend such an automobile. But Hot-Rod Harry, who has a passion for fast cars and is a skilled mechanic (so that he doesn’t mind frequent breakdowns), might not agree with my evaluation. He might agree with my description of a given car and yet not agree that it was a good car. To me, my Chevy automobile is a good car, but to Harry it is a bad one and he wouldn’t be seen dead in it. Here is the central distinction between a description and an evaluation of some thing:

■ Description: Car C has features a, b, c…, n. ■ Evaluation: Good is always an attribution relative to some standard.

Hot-Rod Harry and I differ in calling car C good because we have different standards of reference. We can choose whatever standard of reference that we like; any such standard is not intrinsic to the nature of cars.

The point is that the descriptive component of good does not exhaust its meaning. There is something added—that is, the value factor. And this value aspect, the prescriptive nature of good, is a matter of guiding others’ choices. Hare writes, “When we commend or condemn anything, it is always in order, at least indirectly, to guide choices, our own or other people’s, now or in the future.”8

Now, if I know that someone needs a car and has similar needs and values as mine, I can recommend a used Chevy sedan like mine to him. “It’s a good car,” I might say. Or, “If you want a good used car, get a Chevy sedan.” Or, “You ought to buy an inexpensive secondhand Chevy like mine.” All these statements have the same prescriptive force. The first sentence is an indicative value statement; the second is a hypothetical imperative (of the form, “If you want X, do A”); and the third is an indicative sentence, containing the prescriptive verb ought.

It is important to note that moral judgments are not merely imperative com- mands, but through their prescriptive element they contain imperatives. “You ought not to cheat” is just another way of saying the imperative “Don’t cheat,

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please!” When I accept the judgment that cheating is wrong—that people ought not to cheat—I am committing myself to live by that prescription myself. My moral judgment that you ought not to do X is meant to “guide” your action, not in the sense that it necessarily moves you to do X, but in the sense that your accepting my judgment commits you to doing X, and your not doing X implies that you have rejected my judgment.

The Logic of Moral Reasoning

A particular feature of Hare’s theory that advances the program of noncogniti- vism is the idea that there is a logic to prescriptive judgments. Although moral judgments do not have truth value, they do have a logical form. We can argue about particular judgments and use arguments to reach particular prescriptions.

Hare holds two theses about the distinction between is and ought—between descriptive and prescriptive statements as they pertain to logical form:

1. No indicative conclusion can be validly drawn from a set of premises that cannot be validly drawn from the indicatives among them alone.

2. No imperative conclusion can be validly drawn from a set of premises that does not contain at least one imperative.

Let’s focus on the second of these. A case of arguing from an indicative premise to an imperative would be

A1. This is a box.

A2. Therefore, take this box to the railroad station.

Something is clearly missing. We must add a major premise in the form of an imperative:

1. Take all the boxes to the railroad station.

As a result, the argument becomes

B1. Take all the boxes to the railroad station.

B2. This is a box.

B3. Therefore, take this to the railroad station.

When we recall that ought judgments are a type of imperative and then apply thesis 2 to moral judgments, we see that a valid moral argument must contain at least one ought (imperatival) premise to reach a moral conclusion:

C1. Students ought not to cheat on tests. (Imperative form: Never cheat, please!)

C2. Jill is taking a philosophy test. (Indicative statement)

C3. Therefore, Jill ought not to cheat on her test. (Imperative form: Therefore, don’t cheat, Jill!)

Hare is in essence agreeing with Hume’s fallacy of deriving ought from is. If our premises contain only factual is statements, then we cannot legitimately derive any ought statements of obligation from them. However, if at least one

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of the premises contains an ought, then we might legitimately carry this value element through to the conclusion.

Universalizability

Universalizability is the most important feature of Hare’s moral theory because it gives the theory a formal structure. There is no special content to Hare’s system, but there is a method. The method is essentially Kantian, similar to the categorical imperative: Act in such a way as to be able to will that the prin- ciple of your action could be a universal law. What distinguishes Kant’s theory from Hare’s is Kant’s belief that the categorical imperative will generate sub- stantive universal principles such as duties to develop one’s talents; Hare rejects this idea.

The principle of universalizability is that in making a moral judgment one has to say that one would make the same judgment in all similar cases. A judg- ment is not moral unless the agent is prepared to universalize his or her prin- ciple. “To ask whether I ought to do A in these circumstances is to ask whether or not I will that doing A in such circumstances should become a universal law.”9 Universalizability is the recognition that “what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” It constrains our choices to the extent that it warns us that by whatever judgment we judge we too will be judged. Hare argues that universalizability is both a necessary and sufficient condition of any moral judgment where one would impartially apply the same principle in any case of the same kind as the one in question. The distinction between “necessary” and “sufficient” condition is critical here and can be expressed as follows:

Universalizability as a necessary condition. If a principle is a moral one, then it applies universally.

Universalizability as a sufficient condition. If a principle applies universally, then it is a moral one.

Is Hare correct that universalizability is both a necessary and a sufficient con- dition for moral principles? A strong case can be made for viewing universaliz- ability as a necessary condition. Generally speaking, if you say that object X has a certain property F and point out that object Y is exactly similar to X, then we would expect that Y would also have property F. If this cube of sugar is sweet and the one next to it is exactly similar in every relevant way, we should have to conclude that it is also sweet. Likewise with morality: If Bob does something that we judge to be immoral and Joe does something exactly similar in every relevant way, then we must judge that Joe’s act is also immoral.

However, the case is more difficult to make regarding universalizability as a sufficient condition. That is, not every universalizable principle that is pre- scriptive is a moral one such as this: “Do not immerse your hands in battery acid because this will burn your skin.” This principle is prescriptive because it is urging a specific type of behavior. It is also universal because the directive applies to everyone—just as the harmful effects of battery acid on one’s skin

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applies to everyone. And although immersing one’s hands in battery acid may be a stupid thing to purposefully do, it is not necessarily an immoral act.

Principles

One of the most insightful aspects of Hare’s work is his recognition of the centrality of principles in moral reasoning. To get a better look at this feature, let’s contrast principle-centered systems with a nonprincipled system. One such type of ethics is situational ethics, especially as advocated by Joseph Fletcher in his book Situation Ethics. Fletcher relates the following story to illustrate his thesis that principles are unnecessary for moral living. During the 1964 election campaign, a friend of Fletcher’s was riding in a taxi and hap- pened to ask the taxi driver about his political views. The driver said, “I and my father and grandfather … and their fathers, have always been straight-ticket Republicans.” “Ah,” said the friend, who is himself a Republican, “I take it that means you will vote for Senator Goldwater.” “No,” said the driver, “there are times when a man has to push his principles aside and do the right thing.”10 The taxi driver is the hero of Fletcher’s book, and his attitude is that we can jolly well do without principles.

But Hare would point out that, in Fletcher’s mind, there is confusion between viewing principles as rigid absolutes and as reasons that are necessary to inform our deliberations. If Fletcher’s friend had pressed the taxi driver a bit further, he no doubt would have gotten him to give some reasons for switching his vote. For example, he might have argued that Senator Goldwater wanted to escalate the war in Vietnam and such an escalation would both be unjust and lead to terrible consequences.

Indeed, Hare argues that all moral reasoning involves principles and that without principles most teaching would be impossible because we usually teach not particular items but a set of action-guiding principles; that is, we don’t learn isolated individual acts but classes of acts within classes of situations:

In learning to drive, I learn, not to change gear now, but to change gear when the engine makes a certain kind of noise. If this were not so, instruction would be of no use at all; for if all an instructor could do were to tell us to change gear now, he would have to sit beside us most of the rest of our lives in order to tell us just when, on each occasion, to change gear.11

After we have basic principles, we next learn when to use them and when to subordinate them to suit a complex situation. In driving, we first learn to draw to the side of the road before stopping. Later, we learn that this does not apply when stopping before making a left-hand turn onto a side road because then we must stop near the middle of the road until it is possible to turn. Still later, we learn that in this maneuver it is not necessary to stop at all if it is an uncontrolled junction, and we can see that there is no traffic that we will obstruct by turning. And so, the process of modifying our driving princi- ples goes on.

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The good driver is one whose actions are so exactly governed by prin- ciples which have become a habit with him, that he normally does not have to think just what to do. But road conditions are exceedingly various, and therefore it is unwise to let all one’s driving become a matter of habit.… The good driver constantly attends to his habits, to see whether they might not be improved; he never stops learning.12

Granted, then, we need principles in morality that will serve to habitually guide our conduct. But which moral principles should we follow? His answer is that there is no complete list of principles:

[A] complete justification of a decision would consist of a complete account of its effects, together with a complete account of the principles which it observed, and the effects of observing those principles. … If pressed to justify a decision completely, we have to give a complete specification of the way of life of which it is a part. This complete specification it is impossible in practice to give; the nearest attempts are those given by the great religions. … If the inquirer still goes on asking “But why should I live like that?” then there is no further answer to give him, because we have already, ex hypothesi, said everything that could be included in this further answer. We can only ask him to make up his own mind which way he ought to live; for in the end everything rests upon such a decision of principle.13

Hare argues that we are free to choose our own principles, but having chosen, we must commit ourselves to those principles, thus universalizing them. He believes, though, that by using the imagination and putting oneself “in the shoes” of other people, we will be able to arrive at a group of common princi- ples; if all normal people use this approach, he argues, they will in fact end up with a common normative moral theory—some form of utilitarianism.

Criticisms of Prescriptivism

Hare has been the target of attack by many ethicists over the decades; four spe- cific criticisms leveled at his prescriptivism are these: (1) It is too broad and allows for conduct that we typically deem immoral, (2) it permits trivial judgments to count as moral ones, (3) it allows the moral substance in life to slip away from ethical theory, and (4) there are no constraints on altering one’s principles.

First, prescriptivism is too broad: It allows terribly immoral people and acts to count as moral. Hare himself was the first to point this out in Chapter 13 of Freedom and Reason (1962). He admitted that the fanatic who prescribed that all people of a certain race should be exterminated could, on his account, be considered as moral judged by his theory. A convinced Nazi could validly use argument A:

A1. All Jews ought to be exterminated.

A2. David is a Jew.

A3. Therefore, David should be exterminated.

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And a right-wing fanatic could reason

B1. No socialist should be allowed to teach in an American university.

B2. John is a socialist.

B3. Therefore, John should not be allowed to teach in an American university.

The only constraint on choosing moral principles is that one should use one’s sympathetic imagination and put oneself “into the other person’s shoes” before making the judgment. But this doesn’t hinder the fanatic, who reasons, “If I were ever to become a socialist (or found to be a Jew), I would deserve the same treatment as I am prescribing.” Many of us would argue that there is no way to justify these principles. Perhaps the fanatic has been misinformed on the dangers of Jews or socialists, but there is no reason to accept his or her principles as legitimate. There must be something wrong with a theory that is so broad as to allow heinous acts to count as moral. Such a theory seems subject to the same criticisms as subjective relativism (see Chapter 13).

Second, prescriptivism allows the most trivial considerations to count as moral judgments. It would seem that any noncontradictory principle whatsoever could become a moral principle as long as it was prescriptively universalized by someone. Consider the following arguments:

C1. Everyone ought to rub his or her tummy on Tuesday mornings.

C2. Today is Tuesday, and it is morning.

C3. Therefore, you and I ought to rub our tummies.

D1. Everyone ought to tie one’s right shoe before one’s left.

D2. You are about to tie your shoes.

D3. Therefore, you have a moral duty to tie your right shoe before your left shoe.

Both of these arguments contain the four central features of Hare’s theory: The moral judgment in the conclusion is a universalized prescriptive principle that follows the proper logical form. Morality for Hare has no special subject matter, no core content. This is the penalty that his theory pays for being so open-ended.

Third, prescriptivism misses the point of morality: Not only does it allow too much to be counted as moral, it allows too much to slip through the moral net. We generally think that we have some moral obligations whether we are fully aware of them or not and whether we like it or not. We think it wrong in general to lie or cheat or kill innocent people or harm others without good reason, and any moral theory worth its salt would have to recognize these minimal principles as part of its theory. But there is no necessity to recognize these principles in Hare’s theory; the principle “Killing innocent people is wrong” (or “one ought not to kill innocent people”) is not a necessary principle in prescriptivism. One may choose the very opposite of that principle if one so wishes: “One ought to kill innocent people.” So, when mass murderer Mike comes before the judge after being accused of killing 47 children, he may rightly say, “Your Honor, I protest your sentencing me to life imprisonment. Yes, I broke the law, but morality is higher than the law, and I was only doing what

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was morally right—killing innocent people. Mine were acts of civil disobedience.”

A judge who was a prescriptivist would have to agree and reply, “Yes, I can see that you have a different set of moral principles from most of us and that there is no objectively valid way of deciding the issue. But one of my moral principles (indeed, I make my living by it) is to carry out the mandate of the law, so I am sentencing you to life imprisonment.”

Perhaps we could imagine that a conversation like this might actually occur, but there is something counterintuitive about it. We think that morality is (or should be) about important aspects of human existence. Its principles are not something we invent but something we discover by reflection.

A fourth criticism is that Hare’s theory allows us to switch our moral prin- ciples as we see fit. Hare admits that our moral principles are revisable, but he doesn’t seem to notice how damaging this is for a stable moral system. Suppose when you are rich and I am poor, I universalize the principle that “The rich ought to help the poor in every way possible,” and suppose also that I convince you to act on this principle. But suppose now that our situations have reversed— I am rich and you are poor; you notice that I am no longer acting on this prin- ciple, and you accuse me of hypocrisy. I can reply that I am not at all a hypocrite (which implies not living by one’s principles); on the contrary, I am living by my principles—only they are altered principles! I have decided to live by the princi- ple that “No one has a duty to help the poor.” Of course, if I should become poor again, I might very well change my principles again. You may object that this is insincere. But why should I universalize the principle of universal consis- tency over time? I am sincere about living by my current principles, and that is all that Hare’s moral theory requires. Perhaps this shows a lack of character, but then Hare’s theory doesn’t give us any objective standards for character. Perhaps I choose to universalize the principle that one may change one’s character to suit one’s principles. The point here is that there are no nonarbitrary constraints on when and why I may change my moral principles.

NATURAL ISM AND THE FACT–VALUE PROBLEM

All the noncognitivist solutions to the fact–value problem are troubling: Reduc- ing moral utterances to emotional outbursts or mere universal prescriptions destroys many of the key elements that we find essential to morality. Still, the fact–value problem is a very serious one and demands some answer—hopefully one that matches our conceptions of what morality should do.

One answer, called naturalism, is to link moral terms with some kind of natural property. This is precisely the approach taken by traditional philosophers: Utilitarians link moral terms with the natural property of pleasure; egoists, with self-interest; virtue theories, with human flourishing. All these properties are nat- ural ones insofar as they are found in the natural world, specifically the natural realms of human psychology and human society. Hume and Moore each argue that this commits a fallacy—the fallacy of deriving ought from is and the

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naturalistic fallacy. Contemporary moral naturalists disagree and try to show how moral terms and natural properties can be linked in a nonfallacious way.

Geoffrey Warnock, for example, argues that morality is linked with “the betterment—or nondeterioration—of the human predicament.”14 According to Warnock, society has a natural tendency to get worse, an entropy of social relations. Because of limitations in resources, intelligence, knowledge, rationality, and sym- pathy, the social fabric tends to come apart, which as a result threatens to pro- duce a Hobbesian state of nature in which chaos reigns. Morality is antientropic. It opposes these limitations, especially by concentrating on expanding our sympathies.

Naturalism and the Open-Ended Argument

Hume, Moore, and Ayer would accuse Warnock of making a serious fact–value blunder. Moore, for example, would charge that Warnock commits the natural- ist fallacy by defining good in terms of the natural property of “bettering the human predicament.” Applying the open-question argument, let’s again start with the following statement:

S1. Charity is good.

For Warnock, goodness means “bettering the human predicament,” which trans- forms S1 into this:

S2. Charity betters the human predicament.

Carrying the investigation further, Moore would have us ask,

Q1. Is it good to better the human predicament through charity?

Again, for Moore, this shows “clearly that we have different notions before our mind.”

The best way to defend Warnock and other naturalists is to go on the offen- sive and show the inadequacies of Moore’s naturalistic fallacy and open-ended argument. One serious problem with Moore’s theory is that it regards the idea of goodness as though it were a thing. This error is sometimes called the fallacy of hypostatization: treating an idea as a distinct substance or reality. Consider this conversation in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

“Just look along the road, and tell me if you can see either of the mes- sengers,” said the King.

“I can see nobody on the road,” said Alice. “I only wish I had such eyes,” the King remarked in a fretful tone. “To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it’s as

much as I can do to see real people, by this light.” [The messenger arrives] “Who did you pass on the road?” The King

went on, holding out his hand to the Messenger for some more hay. “Nobody,” said the Messenger. “Quite right,” said the King; “this young lady saw him too. So of

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course Nobody walks slower than you.” “I do my best,” the Messenger said in a sullen tone. “I’m sure

nobody walks much faster than I do!” “He can’t do that,” said the King, “or else he’d have been here first.”15

The King makes the ludicrous mistake of treating an indefinite, functional pronoun (“nobody”) as a proper noun. In like manner, Moore treats the com- mon noun goodness as a proper noun; he treats the functional term good as though it were a thing, just as gold and water are things. This seems wrong.

Consider the way we use good in sentences. ■ “The weather is good today.” ■ “That was a good catch that the football player made.” ■ “It’s good to increase the gross national product.” ■ “Telling the truth is a good thing to do although sometimes it’s the wrong

thing to do.”

It’s difficult to give a satisfactory definition of good. Perhaps the closest ones are “the most general term of commendation” and “satisfying some requirement.” When the weather suits our aesthetic or prudential desires, we call it “good”—although it is relative to the speaker because the sunbather and the farmer have different frames of reference. When the football player behaves in a manner befitting his function, we commend his execution. When a nation’s productivity is increased, giving promise of a higher standard of living, we express our approval with the adjective good. Attributing goodness to an activity or artifact represents our approval of that activity or artifact—our judgment that it meets an appropriate standard.

Likewise in ethical discussions, good serves as a term of commendation, expressing the perception that such and such a behavior meets our standards of fitting behavior or contributes to goals we deem positive. When we say that telling the truth is a good thing to do, we do not mean that there is an inde- pendently existing form of the Good that truth telling somehow represents or is “plugged into.” If we are reflective, we generally mean that there is some- thing proper or valuable (either intrinsically or extrinsically) about truth tell- ing. Furthermore, we generally do not judge that the goodness attached to truth telling is absolute because it can be overridden in some cases by other considerations. For example, we judge it to be a bad thing to tell the truth to criminals who will use the information given to murder an innocent person.

We have a notion of good ends that morality serves. Even if we are deon- tologists, we still think that there is a point to morality, and that point generally has to do with producing better outcomes—truth telling generally produces bet- ter outcomes than lying. These ends can be put into nonmoral natural language in terms of happiness, flourishing, welfare, equality, and the like; that is, at least part of our notion of moral goodness is predicated on a notion of nonmoral goodness. A certain logic pertains in what can be called morally good, depending on these nonmoral values.

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If this analysis is correct, then it doesn’t make much sense to treat the notion of “good” like a thing (for example, gold or water) and define it in the realist language, any more than it makes sense to treat “tallness” and “spectacularity” and “equality” as things. It’s a category mistake to treat a functional term as though it were a thing.

CONCLUS ION

In this chapter, we’ve examined the problem of how facts connect with values. We’ve seen three specific arguments that radically divide descriptive facts from value judgments about them: Hume’s fallacy of deriving ought from is, Moore’s nat- uralistic fallacy, and Ayer’s verification principle. We’ve also explored attempts by these philosophers to solve the fact–value problem. For Hume, value judgments are emotional reactions that we have to specific facts, such as our reaction when see- ing someone donating to charity. For Moore, value judgments involve intuitively recognizing value (goodness) within facts (maximizing pleasure through charity). For Ayer, value statements are merely expressions of feelings that we make in response to facts such as Smith donating to charity, a position called emotivism. We find in Ayer’s solution an important distinction between the cognitive and non- cognitive meaning of statements—that is, statements that have a truth value versus those that have no truth value. According to Ayer, emotive expressions of feelings in moral utterances are noncognitive. The central problem with Ayer’s emotivism is that it goes too far by maintaining that moral statements are only expressions of feel- ing. Although there may indeed be a noncognitive emotive element to moral state- ments, they seem to have at least some cognitive component as well.

We’ve also examined Hare’s theory of prescriptivism and how it relates to the fact–value problem. For Hare, moral statements of the sort “Charity is good” have both a descriptive (fact) element, such as “Charity maximizes pleasure,” and a prescriptive (value) element that recommends that others adopt our attitude, such as “You should approve of charity!” Moral judgments, for Hare, involve four features: prescriptions, a proper logical form, universality, and principles. Critics argue that his theory does not have enough constraints on the sort of universal prescriptive principles that we adopt. We may either leave out impor- tant ones or include heinous ones. The inadequacies of emotivism and prescrip- tivism have inspired some recent philosophers to reject noncognitivism and adopt a cognitivist approach called naturalism that links moral terms with some kind of natural property. Warnock, for example, connects morality with the improvement of the human predicament.

NOTES

1. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–1740), Sec. 3.1.1.

2. Ibid.

3. George Edward Moore, Principia Ethica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903).

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4. A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic, 2nd ed. (New York: Dover, 1946), p. 107.

5. See C. L. Stevenson, Ethics and Language (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1944), and “The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms,” Mind 46 (1937): pp. 14–31.

6. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic.

7. R. M. Hare, The Language of Morals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952).

8. R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 127.

9. Ibid., p. 70.

10. Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics (Santa Ana, CA: Westminster Press, 1966).

11. Hare, The Language of Morals, pp. 60–61.

12. Ibid., p. 63.

13. Ibid., p. 69.

14. Geoffrey Warnock, The Object of Morality (London: Methuen, 1971), p. 26.

15. Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass (London: Pan Books, 1947), pp. 232–233. Compare this passage with the hypostatization of time in Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Pan Books, 1947), p. 54.

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Describe Hume’s fallacy of deriving ought from is and how it applies to theories discussed earlier in this book, such as utilitarianism or Kantianism.

2. Many writers on ethics maintain that Hume’s fallacy of deriving ought from is and Moore’s naturalistic fallacy say basically the same thing. Compare and contrast these two fallacies and indicate whether you agree with that assessment.

3. Discuss the problems with Ayer’s extreme version of emotivism and whether Stevenson’s version satisfactorily addresses those shortcomings.

4. Ayer appeared to think that the emotive element is more prominent in ethics than the prescriptive; Hare seems to think it’s the reverse. Is one of these elements indeed more central to moral judgments than the other? Explain.

5. Does Moore’s open-question argument commit the fallacy of hypostatization as suggested at the end of this chapter? Explain.

6. Philosopher John L. Mackie argues that metaethical questions such as those discussed in this chapter are completely irrelevant to whether a person holds traditional moral values. Are the metaethical and practical issues of morality as distinct as Mackie suggests?

THE FACT–VALUE PROBLEM 231

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14

Moral Realism and the

Challenge of Skepticism

Aman and woman in Iran were recently sentenced to death for committingadultery; although that alone is shocking, what makes this judgment espe- cially extreme is that the method of execution was to be death by stoning. The plan was to escort the convicted criminals to a graveyard, wrap them in sheets, partially bury them, and throw stones on them until they were dead. However, because of worldwide opposition, the Iranian government commuted the sen- tence to imprisonment.

One of the organizations responsible for putting pressure on the Iranian gov- ernment was Amnesty International, a group that for decades has actively opposed human rights abuses throughout the world. Its stated mission is to “undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expres- sion, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to pro- mote all human rights.” The organization also states as its core value that it constitutes “a global community of human rights defenders with the principles of international solidarity, effective action for the individual victim, global cover- age, the universality and indivisibility of human rights, impartiality and indepen- dence, and democracy and mutual respect.”1

Within Amnesty International’s mission statement, we find the familiar ethi- cal notions of human rights, freedom, universality, impartiality, and respect. But there also appears to be an underlying assumption about the factual nature of morality: There are clear standards of proper treatment of human beings, and through “research” we can uncover abuses. Morality is not just a gut feeling that changes according to whims of people or society. It is grounded in objective

232

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moral facts that we can recognize and apply to concrete cases like the couple in Iran. The ethical position implied here is that of moral realism: Moral facts exist and are part of the fabric of the universe; they exist independently of our thoughts about them.

Moral realism has three main elements, the first two of which we have already explored in earlier chapters. First, there is an objectivist element regarding moral principles: They have objective validity and do not depend on social approval. Second, there is a cognitivist element regarding moral judgments: They involve assertions that can be evaluated as either true or false. Third, there is a metaphysical element regarding the existence of moral facts: They do in reality exist. Although moral realism involves all three of these components, the heart of the theory—and much of the debate surrounding it—concerns the metaphys- ical claim that moral facts exist.

Most traditional moral theories espouse some kind of moral realism and the notion of “moral facts.” For example, theistic moral realists hold that moral values exist within God. On this view, morality depends on God’s will or reason, which, according to the theist, are objective facts within the universe. Naturalistic moral realists maintain that moral values exist within the natural world and are connected with specific properties such as pleasure or satisfaction. Pleasure and satisfaction, in turn, are objective facts within the world. Egoism and utilitarian- ism are clear examples of this approach insofar as morality is directly linked with the pleasure or satisfaction that people experience as a result of their actions. Aristotle’s virtue theory also espouses naturalistic realism because the moral value is linked directly with human capacities for happiness and successful human activity, which are facts about the world.

And then there is nonnaturalism, a theory held by nonnaturalistic moral realists who ground moral values in nonnatural facts about the world—facts that can’t be detected through scientific means. Morality is still rooted in facts, but they are facts of a unique and sometimes other-worldly kind. Plato’s account of morality, one of the most influential ethical theories ever, is the premier example of nonnaturalistic moral realism. According to Plato, the universe is divided into two radically different realms. The lower realm is the physical world of appear- ances, which is ever changing. The upper one, which exists in “a very central part of the universe,” is spiritlike in nature and contains unchanging entities called forms, which are perfect ideal models—universal patterns—of imperfect things in the physical realm. With morality, there are forms of perfect Goodness, Justice, and Charity, and these are the standards by which we judge human con- duct in the lower physical realm. A good human being like Socrates is good only because he participates in the universal form Goodness. Thus, for Plato, morality

MORAL REAL I SM AND THE CHALLENGE OF SKEPT IC I SM 233

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depends on real and objective facts of a very nonnatural sort—namely, universal forms that exist in a higher spirit-realm.

In this chapter, we examine two influential attacks on moral realism, one by J. L. Mackie and another by Gilbert Harman. Philosophers like these two who oppose moral realism are most generally called antirealists, although their specific strategies differ. Mackie, for example, defends a position calledmoral skepticism, which is a denial that moral values are objectively factual. Harman defends a position called moral nihilism, which for him means “that there are no moral facts, no moral truths, and no moral knowledge.”We begin with Mackie.

MACKIE ’S MORAL SKEPT IC ISM

In 1977, the Oxford philosopher J. L. Mackie in his Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong sets forth a radical interpretation of morality. He opens his book with the sentence “There are no objective values.” He elaborates:

The claim that values are not objective, are not part of the fabric of the world, is meant to include not only moral goodness, which might be most naturally equated with moral value, but also other things that could be more loosely called moral values or disvalues—rightness and wrongness, duty, obligation, an action’s being rotten and contemptible, and so on. It also includes non-moral values, notably aesthetic ones, beauty and various kinds of artistic merit.2

He calls his position moral skepticism. His view is not about the meaning of moral statements but about objective facts, about whether there are any factually right or good actions. His answer is a skeptical one: We have no good reason to believe that objective moral facts exist. Certainly, we feel as though specific actions are objectively right or wrong and that happiness is better than misery, but these are just our subjective preferences—even if others agree, intersubjective agreement is still subjective. When we apply a philosophical microscope to our judgments, we are forced to conclude that moral objectivity is simply false. However nice it would be to have an objective moral authority, there is no rea- son to believe it exists. There are no objective moral truths.

Mackie acknowledges that the notion of objective moral values is ingrained in our language and thought; we presuppose the existence of objective moral facts in our very moral utterances. Nevertheless, there are no such objective values, despite our common assumptions. He calls this an error theory and describes it here:

The denial of objective values will have to be put forward … as an “error theory,” a theory that although most people in making moral judgments implicitly claim, among other things, to be pointing to something objectively prescriptive, these claims are all false.3

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It is much like when people talk about ghosts living in haunted houses; although this presupposes that such ghosts actually exist, the reality is that they do not exist. For Mackie, “The claim to [moral] objectivity, however ingrained in our language and thought, is not self-validating.”

Arguments from Relativity, Queerness, and Projection

Mackie offers three arguments for his skeptical position that moral values do not exist as objective facts about the world: from relativity, queerness, and projection.

The argument from relativity points out that there is no universal moral code that all people everywhere adhere to, which seems to indicate that morality is culturally dependent. It is an anthropological truism that the content of moral codes varies enormously from culture to culture. Some cultures promote monogamy, whereas others promote polygamy. Some cultures practice euthana- sia, and others proscribe it. Our moral beliefs seem largely a product of our cul- tural upbringing. We tend to internalize the customs of our group. The argument from relativity holds that the best explanation for actual moral diversity is the absence of universal moral truths, rather than the distorted perceptions of objective principles.

Is Mackie’s argument successful? The fact of cultural diversity in and of itself does not constitute a very strong argument against an objective core morality any more than disagreement about economics is good evidence against the thesis that some theories are better than others. Disagreement about morals could be the result of ignorance, immaturity, moral insensitivity, superstition, or irrational authority. A criminal I once knew, whom I will call Sam, was accused of attempted rape. Asked to compare the significance of rape with other actions, he replied, “It’s like choosing between chocolate and vanilla ice cream.” Why should I allow Sam’s perception to undermine my confidence in the principle “Rape is immoral”? Just as there can be physical blindness or partial blindness, can’t there be gross moral blindness? Can’t I conclude that something is wrong with Sam—rather than concluding, “Oh, well, different strokes for different folks” or “Different morals for different cultures”? Mackie himself acknowledges that his argument from relativity is indecisive, and that all cultures may indeed follow a very general principle of universalizability—namely, one ought to con- form to specific rules of any way of life in which one takes part. However, he argues, the specific moral rules that we adopt will vary depending on the circum- stances of the society. Ultimately his argument rests on a judgment call between whether (1) so-called objective moral standards inform our ever-changing cul- tural practices or (2) our ever-changing cultural practices inform our human- created moral standards.

The argument from queerness aims at showing the implausibility of supposing that such things as values have an independent existence. If there were objective values, then they would have to be “of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe.” Plato’s theory of the moral forms is a good exam- ple of Mackie’s point: What exactly is a moral form, what is it made of, and

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where does it exist? The whole theory is too bizarre to be believable. Further, Mackie argues, if such strange moral objects existed, they would require a strange faculty for us to perceive them. Mackie thinks that all types of moral realism boil down to a conviction that there is a special sort of intuition that enables us to detect these strange moral objects. Further, there is a longstanding philosophical principle of simplicity that says do not multiply kinds of objects beyond neces- sity. Accordingly, the burden of proof seems to rest with the intuitionist to justify why we should espouse this unexplained, extra mechanism—this strange “moral sense.” What evidence there is suggests that no such strange faculty exists. The principle of simplicity thus has us reject the thesis that moral facts exist in favor of the simpler explanation that moral principles are merely subjective judgments.

In response to this argument, a moral realist might agree with Mackie spe- cifically about Plato’s notion of objective moral forms; they are indeed strange entities that require a strange mental faculty to perceive. However, other versions of moral realism may not require entities or faculties that are as strange. For example, theistic moral realists say that the morality exists as an objective fact in the mind of God, and God then gives us human instincts to recognize some general rules of morality, such as “Be sociable.” The special moral faculty here does not have to be anything strange and may be no different than our awareness of other general human instincts, such as the ability to acquire language or to count. Thus, according to the realist, Mackie portrays moral realism in an unfairly negative way by focusing mainly on Plato’s view of moral forms.

The argument from projection aims to show that belief in objective value is the result of psychological tendencies to project subjective beliefs to the outside world. Why do we erroneously give moral notions an objective and factual sta- tus? In explaining our tendency to objectify morality, Mackie draws on an argu- ment by David Hume. Hume writes,

Take any action allowed to be vicious; willful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In whichever way you take it, you only find certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts.… The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You can never find it till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards that action.4

Hume’s point is that when we perceive a murder we do not perceive the factual immorality within the act itself. Rather, we impose the notion of immorality onto it from within our own feelings. Hume speaks of our mind’s “propensity to spread itself on external objects.” Mackie calls this the pathetic fallacy, “our ten- dency to read our feelings into their objects. If a fungus, say, fills us with disgust, we may be inclined to ascribe to the fungus itself a non-natural quality of foulness.” Similarly, because we internally perceive the morality or immorality of an external action, we then impose that moral quality onto the object and thus wrongly think it exists as a fact.

The realist has a response to this: Projection is a normal and even necessary way for people to interact with the external world, and the fungus example

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illustrates this well. Our internal sense of disgust is an important survival mecha- nism that keeps us away from potentially hazardous things. It’s the product of evolution, and without it we’d almost certainly die a quick death. Although the experienced quality of “disgust” does not exist in the fungus itself, the “dis- gust” experience reflects a reality of how fungi pose a risk to human health. Rather than call this the pathetic fallacy, we should call it the pathetic survival mechanism. Moral judgments work the same way. As Hume correctly notes, the feature of “immoral” doesn’t exist within an act of murder itself. Rather, the immorality that we see in it reflects how murderous acts pose a special threat to us. This special threat is an objective fact just as much as is the health risk posed by fungi.

Inventing Morality

Mackie’s attack on moral realism is primarily directed toward the metaphysical claim that moral values exist in an objective factual realm, external to human beings. Nevertheless, he argues, this has no impact on the more practical task of morality that involves devising moral rules of conduct. He writes,

A man could hold strong moral views, and indeed ones whose content was thoroughly conventional, while believing that they were simply attitudes and policies with regard to conduct that he and other people held. Conversely, a man could reject all established morality while believing it to be an objective truth that it was evil or corrupt.5

When we engage in the practical task of devising moral rules, we are in essence inventing the notions of right and wrong, not discovering them in some objective realm.

What could this mean to “invent” right and wrong? The Greek philosopher Xenophon (570–478 BCE) said that religion is an invention, the making of God in the image of one’s own group:

The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair. Yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds.

Is this how we create morality—in our own images and according to our own desires, giving it authority in the process? Does Mackie mean that we consciously invent morality, principles, and sanctions to achieve social control? It seems so, for he writes:

We need morality to regulate interpersonal relations, to control some of the ways in which people behave towards one another, often in oppo- sition to contrary inclinations. We therefore want our moral judgements to be authoritative for other agents as well as for ourselves: objective validity would give them the authority required.6

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Suppose Mackie is correct and we do invent these practices and institutions. We find ourselves cooperating, and then we notice the wonderful benefits it brings; thus reinforced, the behavior tends to be repeated and promoted. We notice that truth telling is indispensable for achieving our goals, so we invent sanctions to encourage it. But, even if we did create all our moral practices from the beginning in the way Mackie seems to suppose, still it would be an objective matter—a matter of discovery—to determine whether they really work. Morality is a discovery of what will serve human needs and interests. To use the analogy from the Preface of this book, it is an invention like the wheel, which is a phenomenal tool that obeys physical laws and transforms energy more efficiently. Wheels can have diverse purposes. The water wheel is different from the wheel barrow, which is different from the wheel of a bicycle or a car. A wheel can be constructed out of diverse materials—wood, steel, stone, or rub- ber—but there are constraints. You can’t make a square or triangular wheel or wheels disproportionately heavy, but different kinds of wheels serve different purposes in different situations.

Similarly, morality is a discovery, a discovery of those principles and strate- gies that best promote a good individual and communal life. Our most funda- mental moral principles are both a rational invention and a rational discovery. Suppose we decide to invent the practice of respecting property. We then dis- cover that it really enhances the freedom and meaning of our lives. Just as the Ethiopian invention of black gods doesn’t make it true that gods are black, our invention of moral practices doesn’t make these practices true or valid or success- ful in meeting the relevant conditions. We don’t invent the fact that respect for property brings us freedom and meaning. Either it does or it doesn’t. There is a fact of the matter.

HARMAN ’S MORAL NIH I L I SM

A second attack on moral realism is by Gilbert Harman in his book The Nature of Morality (1979) where he defends a version of moral nihilism. Again, moral nihil- ism for Harman is the view that there are no moral facts, no moral truths, and no moral knowledge.

His central position is what we may call the disanalogy thesis: Moral principles cannot be tested by observation in the same way that scientific theories can. Sci- entific theories are tested against the world. So, if a predicted observation occurs, then it confirms our theory; but if it doesn’t occur, then we feel strong pressure to alter or reject our theory. With regard to moral theories, we do not identify “rightness” or “wrongness” in acts in the same way:

Scientific hypotheses can … be tested in real experiments, out in the world. Can moral principles be tested in the same way, out in the world? You can observe someone do something, but can you ever perceive the rightness or wrongness of what he does? If you round a

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corner and see a group of young hoodlums pour gasoline on a cat and ignite it, you do not need to conclude that what they are doing is wrong; you can see that it is wrong. But is your reaction due to the actual wrongness of what you see or is it simply a reflection of your moral “sense,” a “sense” that you have acquired perhaps as a result of your moral upbringing?7

Illustrating his point, Harman asks us to compare cases of scientific and moral observation. Consider first a scientific observation. A physicist makes an observa- tion to test a scientific theory. Seeing a vapor trail in a cloud chamber, she thinks, “There goes a proton.” If the observation is relevant to the theory, then the observation confirms the existence of the proton. The best explanation of the vapor trail is the scientific fact—a proton. On the other hand, consider a moral observation. You see some children pouring gasoline on a cat and setting the cat on fire. You don’t see “moral wrongness,” nor do you infer it as the best expla- nation of the event. The wrongness is something you impose on the observation. Generalizing from this comparison, Harman argues that there is a disanalogy between scientific observation of something (which leads us to posit scientific entities as the best explanation) and so-called moral observation (which does not lead us to posit special moral facts as the best explanation). The explanation of a scientific observation is in the world (external to the observer), whereas the explanation of a moral observation is in the observer’s psychological state (inter- nal to the observer). Moral insights occur because of our upbringing, not because of the way the world is.

Because moral facts do not exist in the way that scientific facts do, Harman concludes that moral nihilism is true. He describes his notion of moral nihilism here:

Nihilism is the doctrine that there are no moral facts, no moral truths, and no moral knowledge. This doctrine can account for why reference to moral facts does not seem to help explain observations, on the grounds that what does not exist cannot explain anything.

An extreme version of nihilism holds that morality is simply an illu- sion: nothing is ever right or wrong, just or unjust, good or bad. In this version, we should abandon morality, just as an atheist abandons religion after he has decided that religious facts cannot help explain observations. Some extreme nihilists have even suggested that morality is merely a superstitious remnant of religion.8

Extreme nihilism as he describes is hard to swallow. It would say there is nothing wrong with murdering your mother or exterminating 12 million people in Nazi concentration camps. Moderate nihilism holds that, although no moral truths exist, moral discourse is expressive—roughly emotivist (see Chapter 10). Morality allows us to express our feelings and attempt to get others to feel the way we do, but, at bottom, it is no more objective than extreme nihilism. Morality is merely a functionally useful way of projecting our feelings onto the world.

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Criticism: Scientific and Moral Observation Are Analogous

Richard Werner has opposed Harman on the grounds that scientific and moral observations are more similar than Harman maintains.9 Even if we accept Harman’s observation requirement, we should conclude that moral facts exist. There is no strong disanalogy between scientific and moral observation. The most reasonable explanation for many scientific observations is a scientific entity (for example, the proton in a cloud chamber). Likewise, the most reasonable explanation for a moral observation is a moral entity (for example, the wrongness of causing unnecessary suffering). One may argue that, just as one needs back- ground knowledge to recognize that vapor in a cloud chamber is evidence of a subatomic particle, one needs background evidence about animal sentience and the properties of fire to infer that burning a cat is torturous and hence causes unnecessary suffering. Even if the children were ignorant of that evidence and burned the cat out of curiosity, we would still judge the act to be wrong— although we would judge the children to be guiltless. We would instruct them, “Don’t you realize that cats feel extreme pain in being burned?” If the children know of the pain caused by extreme heat, then they will realize that burning hurts the cat and will realize that it is a bad thing to do, inasmuch as causing pain is a bad thing to do.

However, according to Harman, this argument still entails a disanalogy between scientific and moral reasoning. Werner illustrates Harman’s disanalogy thesis by comparative diagrams as shown in Figures 14.1 and 14.2.

In Figure 14.1, principle SP is derivable from ST, whereas SO and RSO are derivable from SP together with some observation (the trail in the cloud cham- ber). SO tends to verify SP, which in turn verifies ST. Thus, the entities posited in ST and SP must exist to be observed in SO.

In Figure 14.2, principle MP is derivable from MT, whereas MO and RMO are derivable from MP together with some observation (the malicious burning of the cat). MO does not tend to verify MT because the most reasonable

Scientific Theory (ST) Quantum Physics

Scientific Principles (SP) Protons traveling through cloud chambers leave vapor trails.

Scientific Observation (SO) This proton traveling through this cloud chamber is leaving a vapor trail.

Report of SO (RSO) “There goes a proton.”

F I G U R E 14.1 Scientific explanatory model

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explanation of RMO depends on the observer’s psychological set and does not require the positing of moral facts. Thus, there is a disanalogy between scientific and moral reasoning.

Werner thinks that the diagram in Figure 14.2 is incomplete. We could con- struct a set of upward-pointing arrows, saying that the best explanation for our moral observations is the truth of our moral principles and theory. Suppose our moral theory includes the principle that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffer- ing on beings. The background conditions will include the fact that we socialize children to feel guilt about inflicting such cruelty on others. A second criterion will be that this socialization process must survive rational scrutiny (that is, we would have confidence in this process under conditions of impartiality and wide knowledge). We will appeal to the children’s own experience of pain and suffering to confirm that pain is intrinsically bad. This would be hard to teach if, as rarely happens, the children cannot feel physical pain. But they could still comprehend psychological pain. Let’s assume this connection between the idea that pain is intrinsically bad and the observation that we feel guilt if we cause cruelty or moral indignation at the sight of others causing cruelty—that is, unnecessary suffering. We can then say that our judging of the children as doing something wrong confirms the thesis that it is indeed wrong to cause unnecessary suffering. If this is correct, then Harman’s disanalogy evaporates, and we can say that moral judgments are derivable from moral principles and theories and that they tend to confirm those principles and theories.

In the end, Harman is correct to point out that moral principles cannot be tested by observation in the same way that empirical theories can, but they can be tested. Cultures that fail to adopt moral principles, such as truth telling, prom- ise keeping, cooperating, and not killing innocent members of the community, will probably not survive, or if they do, their members will not be very happy or prosperous. Anthropological and sociological data confirm the need for morality as much as vapor trails in a cloud chamber confirm the existence of protons. So, in a way, our reflective moral judgments, those surviving critical scrutiny, do

Moral Theory (MT) Some Moral Theory

Moral Principles (MP) Wantonly causing creatures pain and suffer- ing is morally wrong.

Moral Observation (MO) These kids are wantonly causing pain and suffering to the cat by burning it.

Report of MO (RMO) “Burning the cat is morally wrong.”

F I G U R E 14.2 Moral explanatory model

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roughly confirm our moral theories. But, even as our scientific theories are open to revision and qualification, so our moral theories are open to revision in light of better evidence and reflection.

A DEFENSE OF MORAL REAL ISM

We’ve seen that both Mackie’s and Harman’s arguments have serious obstacles and do not constitute decisive refutations of moral realism. Our next task is to defend moral realism by identifying possible candidates for moral facts.

Moral Facts about Happiness and Suffering

One possible set of facts that might count as “moral” relates to happiness and suffering. Let’s return to Harman’s contention that we cannot know by observa- tion (or by any other way) that setting a cat on fire is immoral. How would we counter this contention? Perhaps we could set up the following argument:

(1) It is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering.

(2) Burning a cat causes unnecessary suffering.

(3) Therefore, it is wrong to burn the cat.

The first premise here is the key one, and it constitutes an objective moral fact. Sup- pose we have to justify the truth—that is, the factual basis—of this first premise. Intuitionists might argue that this is self-evident—either immediately obvious or self-evident on reflection by any rational person. The wrongness of causing unnec- essary suffering, they would hold, is as apparent upon reflection as the truth that 2 þ 2 = 4 or that other minds exist. Although added justification might help, it is not necessary because the justification would be no more certain (to a rational person upon adequate reflection) than the original judgment itself is. Anyone who doesn’t see this is just morally blind—as blind as someone who doesn’t see the redness of apples or the greenness of grass. This answer agrees with Harman’s argument that scientific and moral principles are tested differently but says that the difference doesn’t matter. Each principle is true in its own sphere. This argument may be cor- rect, but it is unsatisfactory for distinguishing valid intuitions from invalid ones. Any- one can play the intuitionist game and claim that some activity X is wrong or right. For example, an American might say, “It’s just obvious that the American way of life is superior,” or a Nazi might say, “It’s just obvious that Jews should be exterminated.” A racist may think it’s intuitively obvious that people of other races are subhuman, even evil. Superstitions are often justified in this way. How do we distinguish superstitions from valid moral principles? We seem to need something more than mere intuitions.

Similarly, religionists might appeal to the laws of God. We must refrain from harming sentient beings for the fun of it because God has so commanded us or because God informs us of the wrongness of such actions. Perhaps this is so, but how do we know that God exists or that this particular command is really

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authentic? The appeal to religion just shifts the discussion to an equally difficult topic—justifying religion.

More important, suppose we are naturalists like Harman. How can we jus- tify the first premise? We can theorize about sentience, holding that sentient beings desire happiness or pleasure and avoid pain or suffering. Moral principles are guides to action that, among other things, promote happiness and reduce suffering.10 If principle P promotes happiness or lessens suffering, then P qualifies as a moral principle. It follows from the nature of principles that it is right to do P and to refrain from acting against P—that is, refrain from anything that would diminish another’s happiness or increase another’s suffering. Perhaps we could link moral principles with promoting the interests of sentient beings. Or perhaps, for some reason, you are not sure about including animals in the circle of morally considerable beings. Then, instead of premise 2, we could use premise 20:

20. Burning Jews in gas ovens causes unnecessary suffering. Or, instead of premise 20, we could use premise 200: 200. Burning little children causes unnecessary suffering.

This argument assumes that morality is a functional institution that concerns promoting happiness and reducing suffering. I think this assumption is correct. Why can’t we characterize morality as having these features? If someone objects that this is begging the question about the definition of morality, my reaction is to say, “OK. I’ll give you the word morality. Call this feature lorality and say that it consists of practices that, among other things, promote (human) happiness and reduce suffering.” But, I see no need to use “lorality” because we already have a well-established commonsense notion of “morality” with a long history in Eastern and Western thought connecting this notion with promoting happiness, reducing suffering, striving for justice, and ensuring the survival of society.

Universals and Supervenient Properties

There are other ways to make sense of the realist position that moral principles are grounded in objective moral facts that make up the fabric of the universe. One such approach draws on the metaphysical concept of universals. To explain, not all truths or facts about the universe are empirical ones. For example, the laws of logic are not empirical, yet the logical law of noncontradiction is true of all possible worlds. Similarly, it may well be that the world contains universals and not just particulars. There is a universal property red that all red things have in common, a universal horse aspect that all horses have in common, a universal idea of pain that all experiences of pain have in common, a universal concept of belief that all beliefs have in common. There is a universal property of being a prime number that empiricism does not even bear on. There are two-placed relations such as the relationship of being to the left of something (for example, aRb, where R stands for the relation and a and b stand for the objects) that char- acterize objects in space and relations in time (for example, a occurred before b). If universals are admitted as part of the fabric of the universe, then I see no

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reason to withhold moral properties from this class of entities. There seem to be moral properties and, if so, then there are moral truths, whether or not anyone acknowledges them and whether or not we discover them.

Another metaphysical approach to defending moral realism involves the notion of supervenient properties: Moral properties supervene on (depend upon, emerge out of) natural ones. Here’s an example of the general concept of supervenience. Our perception of the color red is a supervenient effect of the reflection of certain light waves off surfaces as communicated to our retinas. The color red supervenes on the noncolored properties of these surfaces. What we have here is a higher-level set of properties, one (the color red) of which depends on a lower-level set of properties (light rays and psychological perceptions). The color is not in the objects themselves, but there is a causal relationship between the light rays and our perceptions. In a similar way, moral properties may supervene, or emerge out of, natural ones. For example, badness is a supervenient property of the natural property of pain, goodness is of happiness. Rightness is supervenient of truth telling and promise keeping, and wrongness is supervenient of doing unnecessary harm. The benefit of this approach is that it connects moral properties to natural ones but does not reduce the moral ones to the natural ones; that is, it does not equate “moral badness” with pain or “moral goodness” with happiness. They’re intimately interrelated but not identical. Thus, a realist might maintain that objective moral facts are the higher-order ones (badness, goodness) that depend on the lower-level natural ones (pain, pleasure).

I hasten to add that the solution from neither universals nor superveniency is foolproof, and critics charge that they rest on metaphysical crutches that are as shaky as the notion of “objective moral fact” is itself. The suspicions that moral skeptics have about bizarre entities like “moral facts” apply equally to bizarre metaphysical entities like universals and supervenient properties. According to the skeptic, neither of these are features of the real world but fabrications of phi- losophers. Nevertheless, the larger point is that if we’re willing to grant the exis- tence of at least some metaphysical entities (universals, supervenient properties), then they may help provide an account of objective moral facts.

Noncognitivism and Moral Realism

In Chapter 13, we looked at noncognitivist moral theories and the challenges these pose to traditional conceptions of morality. Noncognitivist theories also introduce problems for moral realism, and we conclude our defense of moral realism by addressing these.

Briefly, noncognitivism is the position that moral utterances such as “Murder is wrong” are not factual statements (that is, true or false statements about the world). Rather, moral utterances function in an entirely different way. First, there is an emotivist function: Moral utterances merely express our feelings, such as if I shout out “Boo for murder!” Second, there is a prescriptivist function: Moral utterances guide our actions, such as if I say in a commanding voice to you “Do not murder!” According to noncognitivism, then, there are no moral proposi- tions because propositions are descriptions, characterizations of the way the world

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is, whereas moral principles are emotive expressions or prescriptions that guide our actions. And if there are no moral propositions, then out the window go moral facts and moral realism.

The moral realist has a solution to this noncognitivist problem: Meaningful propositions can be embedded in our prescriptions, and these have truth value. For example, we can say of a medical prescription that “taking an aspirin a day is the correct prescription if you want to prevent a heart attack.” Similarly, with a moral prescription we can also correctly say, “Promoting human flourishing by deeds of kindness and love is the way to make this a better world.” Both state- ments are true (or if they aren’t, then their opposites are true). Thus, moral prin- ciples do entail truth claims in this broad sort of way. If this is correct, then we can conclude that moral realism, with its thesis that there are moral facts, is correct.

Suppose, though, that we are unclear about the strength of the argument for moral realism and are inclined toward noncognitivism. We could still adhere to a type of moral objectivism that’s not as strong as full-fledged moral realism. We could still hold that, from an ideal perspective, a specific set of principles (such as those described in Chapter 3 on objective morality) is necessary for human flour- ishing. We would speak of these prescriptive principles as being valid or adequate to our purposes, rather than true, but we would still preserve the universality and objectivity of morality. So, although cognitivism and realism seem surer paths to moral objectivism, noncognitivism is compatible with it.

CONCLUS ION

In this chapter, we have examined the moral realist position that moral facts are features of the universe, independent of our thoughts about them. We’ve exam- ined the positions of two influential antirealists: Mackie and Harman. Mackie argues that moral realism is undermined by three considerations: There is no uni- versal moral code that all people everywhere adhere to, moral facts would seem to be very strange and counterintuitive entities, and objective value is the result of psychological tendencies to project subjective beliefs to the outside world. Each of these arguments, we’ve seen, has problems. Harman argues that moral principles cannot be tested by observation in the same way that scientific theories can. We’ve seen that the disanalogy between science and morality may not be as extreme as Harman supposes. Finally, we’ve looked at different ways in which moral facts might exist. None of these explanations of moral facts may stand out as being the clear choice, but there are at least some good reasons to hold to some version of moral realism, even if we reject Plato’s realist account of the moral forms.

NOTES

1. “Statute of Amnesty International,” http://www.amnesty.org.

2. J. L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (London: Penguin, 1977), p. 15.

3. Ibid., p. 35.

MORAL REAL I SM AND THE CHALLENGE OF SKEPT IC I SM 245

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4. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–1740), Sec. 3.1.

5. Mackie, Ethics, p. 16.

6. Ibid., p. 3.

7. Gilbert Harman, The Nature of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 4.

8. Ibid., p. 11.

9. Richard Werner, “Ethical Realism,” Ethics 93 (1983): 653–679; see also Nicholas Sturgeon, “Moral Explanations,” in Essays in Moral Realism, ed. G. Sayre-McCord (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990).

10. I distinguish between pain and suffering. Pain is typically physiological or at least phenomenological, as in “I’m pained by his betrayal of his family.” Suffering, as I define it, is more objective and encompasses pain but is broader in scope. I may be suffering from incurable cancer but not be aware of it, let alone be in pain. Both indicate harm to the agent, but pain is consciously experienced whereas suffering need not be.

FOR FURTHER REFLECT ION

Additional questions online

1. Consider Plato’s theory of the moral forms discussed at the outset of this chapter. Does Mackie’s argument from queerness successfully refute it? Explain.

2. Examine Mackie’s argument from projection and explain whether it is a successful refutation of objective moral facts.

3. Does Werner successfully respond to Harman’s contention that moral theories differ radically from scientific ones? Explain.

4. How might an antirealist respond to the argument at the end of the chapter that links moral facts with happiness and suffering?

5. Examine the metaphysical defense of moral realism from either universals or superveniency and explain whether they are successful.

6. Can noncognitivism be made compatible with moral realism in the ways described at the end of the chapter? Explain.

246 CHAPTER 14

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Appendix

How to Read and Write

a Philosophy Paper*

Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without great difficulty.

PLATO, THE REPUBLIC

J ust about everyone who comes to philosophy—usually in college—feels asinking sensation in their stomach when first encountering this very strange material, involving a different sort of style and method from anything else they have ever dealt with. It was certainly my first reaction as a student. Lured by questions such as, “Is there a God? What can I truly know? What is the mean- ing of life? How shall I live my life?” I began to read philosophy on my own. My first book was Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, which is much more than a history of the subject; it is also Russell’s own analysis and evaluation of major themes in the history of Western philosophy. Although it is not a terribly difficult text, most of the ideas and arguments were new to me. Since he opposed many of the beliefs that I had been brought up with, I felt angry with him. But since he seemed to argue so persuasively, my anger gave way to confusion and then to a sense of defeat and despair. Yet, I felt compelled to go on with this “forbidden fruit,” finishing Russell’s long work and going on to read Plato’s Republic, René Descartes’s Meditations, David Hume’s Dialogues on Natural Religion, selected writings of Immanuel Kant, William James’s Will to Believe, and finally contemporary readings by Antony

*Adapted from Louis P. Pojman, ed., Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1991), pp. 617–620.

247

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Flew, R. M. Hare, John Hick, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Gradually, I became aware that on every issue on which I disagreed with Hume or Russell, Kant or Hick, someone else had a plausible counterargument. Eventually, I struggled to the place where I could see weaknesses in arguments (sometimes in the arguments of those figures with whom I had agreed), and finally I came to the point where I could write out arguments of my own. The pain of the process slowly gave way to joy—almost addictive joy, let me warn you—so that I decided to go to graduate school to get an advanced degree in philosophy.

This textbook is meant to suggest responses to stimulate you to work out your own position on the questions addressed herein. This text, offering arguments on alternative sides of each issue, along with a teacher to serve as a guide—and, I hope, some fellow students with whom to discuss the material—should challenge you to begin to work out your own moral philosophy.

However, neither the textbook nor the teacher will be sufficient to save you from a sense of disorientation and uncertainty in reading and writing about phi- losophy, so let me offer a few tips from my experience as a student and as a teacher of the subject.

SUGGEST IONS FOR READING

A PHILOSOPHY TEXT

The styles and methods of philosophy are different from those of other subjects with which you have been acquainted since grammar school: English, history, psychology, and science. Of course, there are many methods among philoso- phers. And some writings—for example, those of the existentialists: Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre—resem- ble more what we encounter in literature than they do more typical essays in philosophical analysis. In some ways, philosophy resembles mathematics, since it usually strives to develop a deductive argument much like a mathematical proof; only the premises of the argument are usually in need of a lot of discus- sion and objections need to be considered. Sometimes, I think of arguing about a philosophical problem as a kind of legal reasoning before a civil court: Each side presents its evidence and gives reasons for accepting its conclusion rather than the opponent’s. For example, suppose you believe in freedom of the will and I believe in determinism. We each set forth the best reasons we have for accepting our respective conclusions. The difference between philosophical argument and the court case is that we are also the jury. We can change our minds on hearing the evidence and even change sides by hearing our opponent make a persuasive case.

248 APPEND IX

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content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

SUGGEST IONS FOR WRIT ING

A PHILOSOPHY PAPER

Talking about philosophy and writing philosophy are excellent ways to improve your understanding of the content and process of the subject as well as to improve your philosophical reasoning skill. Writing an essay on a philosophical issue focuses your mind and forces you to concentrate on the essential arguments connected with the issue. The process is hard, but it’s amazing how much prog- ress you can make—some of us faster than others, but in my experience some of those who have the hardest time at first end up doing the deepest, most thor- ough work.

First, identify a problem you want to shed light on or solve or a thesis you want to defend. Be sure that you have read at least a few good articles on differ- ent sides of the issue and can put the arguments in your own words—or mini- mally can explain them in your own words.

Now you are ready to begin to write. Here are some suggestions that may help you.

1. Identify the problem you want to analyze. For example, you might want to show that utilitarianism is a tenable (or untenable) theory.

2. As clearly as possible, state the problem and what you intend to show. For example: “I intend to analyze the arguments for and against act-utilitarianism and show how utilitarianism can meet the main objections to it.”

3. Set forth your arguments in logical order, and support your premises with reasons. It helps to illustrate your points with examples or to point out counterexamples to opposing points of view.

4. Consider alternative points of view as well as objections to your own posi- tion. Try to meet these charges and show why your position is more plausible.

5. Apply the principle of charity to your opponent’s reasoning—that is, give his or her case the strongest interpretation possible—for unless you can meet the strongest objections to your own position, you cannot be confident that your position is the best. I should add that applying the principle of charity is one of the hardest practices in philosophical discussion. Even otherwise very good philosophers have an inclination to caricature or settle for a weak version of their opponent’s arguments.

6. End your paper with a summary and a conclusion. That is, succinctly review your arguments and state what you think you’ve demonstrated. In the con- clusion, it is always helpful to show the implications of your conclusion for other issues. Answer the question, “Why does it matter?”

7. Be prepared to write at least two drafts before you have a working copy. It helps to have another philosophy student go over the preliminary draft before you write a final draft. Make sure that your arguments are well con- structed and that your paper as a whole is coherent.

APPEND IX 249

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8. Regarding style: Write clearly and in an active voice. Avoid ambiguous expressions, double negatives, and jargon. Put other people’s ideas in your own words as much as possible, and give credit in the text and in bib- liographical notes whenever you have used someone else’s idea or quoted someone. Knowing just when to credit another person is an exercise in good judgment. While academics are rightly indignant with students who fail to refer to their sources, some students are fastidious to a fault, even documenting where they heard common knowledge. There is a middle way that common sense should be able to discover.

9. Include a bibliography at the end of your paper. In it, list all the sources you used in writing your paper.

10. Put the paper aside for a day, then read it afresh. Chances are you will find things to change.

When you have a serious problem, do not hesitate to contact your teacher. That is what he or she is there for: to help you progress in your philosophical reasoning. Your teacher should have reasonable office hours in which he or she is available to discuss the work of students.

Good luck! I hope you come to enjoy philosophical inquiry—and especially moral philosophy—as much as I have.

250 APPEND IX

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Glossary

Absolutism, moral The theory that there are nonoverridable moral principles that one ought never violate.

Act-intuitionism The theory that we must consult our moral intuition or con- science in every situation to discover the morally right thing to do (Butler).

Action-based theory The view that we should act properly by following moral rules, and we judge people based on how they act, not on whether they are virtuous people.

Actual duty The stronger of two conflict- ing duties that overrides a weaker one (Ross).

Act-utilitarianism The utilitarian view that an act is right if and only if it results in as much good as any available alternative.

Altruism An unselfish regard or concern for others; disinterested, other-regarding action; contrasted with egoism.

Applied ethics The branch of ethics that deals with controversial moral problems— for example, abortion, premarital sex, capital punishment, euthanasia, and civil disobedience.

Autonomy From the Greek for “self- rule,” self-directed freedom.

Biological altruism Improving the reproductive fitness of others at one’s own expense.

Cardinal virtues Four principal virtues advocated by Plato—namely, wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice.

Care ethics The theory that attitudes like caring and sensitivity to context is an important aspect of the moral life.

Categorical imperative A moral imperative that is unqualified and does not depend on one’s desires, the general statement of which is “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law” (Kant).

Cognitivism The view that an utterance has truth value.

Consequentialism (teleological ethics) The theory that the center of value is the outcome or consequences of the act; if the consequences are on balance positive, then the action is right; if nega- tive, then wrong.

Conventional ethical relativism (con- ventionalism) The theory that all moral principles are justified by virtue of their cultural acceptance.

Deontology The view that certain fea- tures in the act itself have intrinsic value.

Descriptive morality The study of actual beliefs, customs, principles, and practices of people and cultures.

251

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content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

Divine command theory The view that ethical principles are the commands of God.

Egoism, ethical The theory that everyone ought always to do those acts that will best serve his or her own best self-interest.

Egoism, psychological The theory that we always do that act that we perceive to be in our own best self-interest.

Emotivism The noncognitive theory that moral utterances are (or include) fac- tually meaningless expressions of feelings (Ayer, Stevenson).

Empiricism The theory that we have no innate ideas and that all knowledge comes from experience.

Error theory The view that moral statements claim to report facts but such claims are in error and no moral claims are actually true (Mackie).

Ethical theory (moral philosophy) The systematic effort to understand moral concepts and justify moral principles and theories.

Ethnocentrism The prejudicial view that interprets all of reality through the eyes of one’s own cultural beliefs and values.

Eudaimonistic utilitarianism A type of utilitarian view maintaining that happiness consists of higher-order pleasures (for example, intellectual, aesthetic, and social enjoyments).

Evolutionary moral theory The view associated with Charles Darwin that human morality results from the natural selection process.

Fact–value problem The metaethical problem regarding whether values are essentially different from facts, whether moral assessments are derived from facts, and whether moral statements can be true or false like factual statements.

Fallacy of deriving ought from is A problem pointed out by Hume about moving from statements about what is the case to statements about what ought to be the case.

Game theory Models of social interac- tion involving games in which players

make decisions that will bring each of them the greatest benefit. Hedonic calculus The utilitarian view that we should tally the consequences of actions according to seven aspects of a plea- surable or painful experience (Bentham). Heteronomy The determination of the will on nonrational grounds; contrasted with autonomy of the will, in which the will is guided by reason (Kant).

Huxley’s problem Humans have com- peting natural tendencies to be sociable in some situations, yet unsociable in others, and natural selection does not recommend one over the other. Hypothetical imperative The non- moral principle that takes the form “If you want A, then do B” (Kant).

Indeterminacy of translation The view that languages are often so fundamentally different from each other that we cannot accurately translate concepts from one to another (Quine); this seems to imply that each society’s moral principles depend on its unique linguistically grounded culture.

Indiscriminate altruism Showing altruism toward others who are not rela- tives or immediate community members. Instrumental good A thing that is worthy of desire because it is an effective means of attaining our intrinsic goods. Intrinsic good A thing that is good because of its nature and is not derived from other goods.

Intuitionism The theory that humans have a natural faculty that gives us an intuitive awareness of morality. Kin altruism Showing altruism toward our close relatives. Kin selection A type of sexual selection whereby reproductive success results from the survival of an animal’s genetic relatives. Metaethics The branch of ethical theory that involves philosophizing about the very terms of ethics and considering the structure of ethics as an object of inquiry.

Moderate objectivism The theory that at least one objective moral principle exists

252 GLOSSARY

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and some core moral values are shared by all or most cultures.

Moral philosophy or ethical theory The systematic effort to understand moral concepts and justify moral principles and theories.

Natural law theory The theory that morality is a function of human nature and reason can discover valid moral principles by looking at the nature of humanity and society.

Natural selection The evolutionary the- ory associated with Charles Darwin that, in the struggle for survival, organisms with the most beneficial mutations in their natural environments will survive and pass that attribute on to their offspring.

Naturalism The theory that moral values are grounded in natural properties within the world, such as pleasure or satisfaction. Naturalistic fallacy A problem about identifying “good” with any specific nat- ural property such as “pleasure” or “being more evolved” (Moore). Negative responsibility The view that we are responsible for the consequences of our nonactions that we fail to perform (not just the actions that we perform). Nihilism, ethical See Nihilism, moral Nihilism, moral The theory that there are no moral facts, moral truths, and moral knowledge (Harman). Noncognitivism The theory that an utterance has no truth value. Nonnaturalism The theory that moral values are grounded in nonnatural facts about the world (facts that can’t be detected through scientific means), such as Plato’s forms or Moore’s indefinable “good.” Objectivism, moral The theory that there are universal moral principles, valid for all people and social environments. Obligatory act An action that morality requires one to do, contrasted with an optional act. Open-question argument An argument to show that for any property that we identify with “goodness,” we can ask, “Is that property itself good?” (Moore).

Optional act An act that is neither obligatory nor wrong to do; includes neutral acts and supererogatory acts; contrasted with an obligatory act.

Overridingness The view that moral principles have predominant authority and override other kinds of principles.

Paradox of ethical egoism The prob- lem that true friendship is central to ego- istic happiness yet requires altruism.

Paradox of hedonism The problem that we all want to be happy, but we don’t want happiness at any price or to the exclusion of certain other values.

Paradox of morality and advantage The problem that sometimes the require- ments of morality are incompatible with the requirements of self-interest (Gauthier).

Pluralistic ethics The theory that both action-based and virtue-based models are necessary for an adequate or complete system.

Practicability The view that moral principles must be workable and its rules must not lay a heavy burden on us when we follow them.

Prescriptivism The noncognitive theory that moral utterances are (or include) factu- ally meaningless utterances and recommends that others adopt one’s attitude (Hare).

Prescriptivity The practical, or action- guiding, nature of morality; involves commands.

Prima facie duty A duty that is tenta- tively binding on us until one duty con- flicts with another (Ross).

Problem of posterity The problem of determining what obligations we owe to future generations of people who do not yet exist.

Publicity The view that moral principles must be made public in order to guide our actions.

Rationalism The theory that reason can tell us how the world is, independent of experience.

Realism, moral The theory that moral facts exist and are part of the fabric of the universe; they exist independently of whether we believe them.

GLOSSARY 253

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Reciprocal altruism The view that an agent may be selfishly motivated to help others with the understanding that they in the future will help the agent.

Relativism, ethical The theory that moral principles gain their validity only through approval by the culture or the individual.

Rule-intuitionism The intuitionist view that we must decide what is right or wrong in each situation by consulting moral rules that we receive through intuition (Pufendorf, Ross).

Rule-utilitarianism The utilitarian view that an act is right if and only if it is required by a rule that is itself a member of a set of rules whose acceptance would lead to greater utility for society than any available alternative.

Satisfactionism The view that identifies all pleasure with satisfaction or enjoyment, which may not involve sensuality.

Sensualism The view that identifies all pleasure with sensual enjoyment.

Sexual selection A type of natural selec- tion whereby reproductive success results from an animal being better at securing mates than its rivals.

Situationalism, ethical The theory that objective moral principles are to be applied differently in different contexts.

Skepticism, moral The theory associ- ated with Mackie that there are no objectively factual moral values.

Social contract theory The moral and political theory that people collectively agree to behave morally as a way to reduce social chaos and create peace.

Soft-inheritance The now-discredited view that a parent passes on a trait that it acquired during its life.

Solipsism, moral The theory that in a person’s view only he or she is worthy of moral consideration; it is an extreme form of egoism.

State of nature A war of all against all where there are no common ways of life,

no enforced laws or moral rules, and no justice or injustice (Hobbes).

Subjective ethical relativism (subjectivism) The relativist view that all moral principles are justified by virtue of their acceptance by an individual agent him- or herself. Supererogatory act An act that exceeds what morality requires. Supervenient property A higher-level property (for example, the color red) that nonreductively depends on a lower-level property (for example, light rays and psychological perceptions). Theological virtues Three principal virtues articulated by Paul in the New Testament—namely, faith, hope, and charity. Tribal altruism Showing altruism toward our immediate community. Universalizability The view that moral principles must apply to all people who are in a relevantly similar situation. Veneer moral theory The view associ- ated with Thomas Huxley that morality does not emerge through natural selection, but is a social creation that humans have added on to their evolutionary development. Verification principle The view that meaningful sentences must be either (1) tau- tologies (statements that are true by definition and of the form “A is A” or reducible to such statements) or (2) empirically verifiable (statements regarding observations about the world, such as “The book is red.”).

Vice A trained behavioral disposition that results in a habitual act of moral wrongness.

Virtue A trained behavioral disposition that results in a habitual act of moral goodness.

Virtue-based theories The view that we should acquire good character traits, not simply act according to moral rules, and morality involves being a virtuous person.

Virtue theory (virtue ethics) The view that morality involves producing excellent persons who act well out of spontaneous goodness and serve as examples to inspire others.

254 GLOSSARY

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Index

A absolutists, 29 act-intuitionism, 115–116 action-based ethics

minimalist and neglecting development of character, 144–145

motivational component, lack of, 141–142

obsolete theological–legal model, 142–143

overemphasize autonomy and neglect community, 145

spontaneous dimension of ethics, 143–144

vs. virtue-based ethics, 141, 146–153 action-nature of the rules thesis

pluralistic ethics, 151–152 standard action-based ethics, 147

actions, 8–9 actual duties, 131 actual rightness, 103 act-utilitarianism, 98–100 After Virtue (MacIntyre), 145 altruism, 83, 86, 139

biological, 164 evolutionary explanations, 164–166 indiscriminate, 164 kin, 165 pure, 166–167 reciprocal, 166–167 tribal, 164

animal moral behavior experiments on, 156–158 study results, 158–161

Anscombe, Elizabeth, 142 antirealists, 234 applied ethics, 2 Aquinas, Thomas, 29 aretaic ethics, 141 argument from projection, 236–237 argument from queerness, 235–236 argument from relativity, 235 Aristippus, 48 Aristotle, 10, 30, 39, 55, 137–138,

144, 147 Ayer, Alfred Jules, 216

B Bambrough, Renford, 36 Baumeister, Roy F., 189 Benedict, Ruth, 13, 18, 19, 22 Bentham, Jeremy, 9, 49, 95–97, 140 bin Laden, Osama, 208 biological altruism, 164 Brandt, Richard, 98 Brave New World (Huxley), 48 Bridge over the River Kwai, 40 Brothers Karamazov, The (Dostoevsky), 195 Bundy, Ted, 15

C Callahan, Daniel, 144 Callatians, 14

255

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Camus, Albert, 248 cardinal virtues, 136 care and particularism, 184–185 care and virtues, 185–186 Carroll, Lewis, 228 case against religion, 208–210 case for religion, 205–208 categorical imperative definition, 119 Good Will, the, 117–118 vs. hypothetical imperative, 118–120 intrinsic goodness, 117–118 principle of autonomy, 120, 128–129 principle of ends, 120, 126–128 principle of the law of nature, 119–125

character traits, 9–10 Cheaters Anonymous, 22 civil disobedience, 21 classic utilitarianism, 95–98 cognitive empathy, 159 cognitive statement, 218 cognitivist element, 233 comparative consequences objection,

102–103 complementarity ethics. See pluralistic

ethics conditional worth, 126 consequentialist ethics, 95 consequentialist principle, 96 consistency objection, 103–104 contradiction, 120 conventional ethical relativism criticisms, 20–25 definition, 14 diversity and dependency theses,

17–19 indeterminacy of language, 24–25 leads to subjectivism, 21–22 moral diversity, 22–23 tolerance, 19–20 values, 20–21 weak dependency, 23–24

conventionalism, 14 Cooperate or Cheat game, 71 core morality, 37–39 correspondence thesis, 147–149 cosmic evolution, 164 counterintuitive consequences, 89 cultural diversity, 23 cultural relativism, 18

D D’Arcy, Eric, 34 Darkness at Noon (Koestler), 107 Darwin, Charles, 161–165, 168 Darwinian evolutionary theory, 35 Dawkins, Richard, 165, 202–203 DCT. See divine command theory DDE. See doctrine of double effect deontological act, 9 deontological systems, 132 deontology, 95 dependency thesis, 17–18 Descartes, René, 114, 247 Descent of Man, The (Darwin), 162 descriptive morality, 2 Dewey, John, 171–172 Dialogues on Natural Religion (Hume), 247 disanalogy thesis, 238 diversity thesis, 17–18 divine command theory (DCT),

195–199 doctrine of double effect (DDE), 31–36 Donne, John, 17 duty-based ethical theorists, 148

E economic argument, 85 egoism. See ethical egoism; psychological

egoism Einstein, Albert, 205 emotional contagion, 159 emotivism, 215, 218–220 empathy, 159 empiricism, 114–115 Enemy of the People, An (Ibsen), 20 entropy of social relations, 228 Epicurus, 49, 95 error theory, 234–235 ethical assessment actions, 8–9 character traits, 9–10 consequences, 9 motive, 10

ethical egoism counterintuitive consequences, 89 definition, 78 economic argument, 85 inconsistent outcomes argument vs.,

87–88 paradox of ethical egoism, 89

256 I NDEX

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predominant psychological egoism, 83–85

problem of future generations, 89–91 publicity argument vs., 88 theory of psychological egoism, 83 virtue of selfishness, 86–87

ethical nihilism, 14 ethical relativism. See conventional ethical

relativism; subjective ethical relativism

ethical situationalism, 40–41 ethical theory, 2 ethics

applied, 2 aretaic, 141 consequentialist, 95 mixed deontological, 132 moral minimalist, 144 study of, 2–3 subdivisions, 2 teleological, 9, 95

Ethics and Language (Stevenson), 219 Ethics in America (TV series), 4 Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Mackie),

234 ethnocentrism, 13–14 etiquette, 5–6 eudaimonistic utilitarianism, 97 Euthyphro, 195 evolution, 161–164 evolutionary moral theory, 162–164 exceptionless rules, 129–132

F fact–value problem

animal and human morality, 168 Ayer’s theory, 217–218 definition, 212–213 emotivism, 218–220 fallacy of deriving ought from is, 213–215 naturalism and, 227–230 naturalistic fallacy, 215–216 open-ended argument, 228–230

fallacy of deriving ought from is, 213–215 fallacy of hypostatization, 228 Feinberg, Joel, 81, 207 female care ethics

care and particularism, 184–185 care and virtues, 185–186 justice vs. care, 182–183

female-only option, 188 Finn, Huck, 150 Fletcher, Joseph, 224 Flew, Antony, 247–248 Fodor, Jerry, 167 Foot, Philippa, 34, 206 Frankena, William, 132–133, 148–149

G Galacticans, 127 game theory, 69–71

Cooperate or Cheat game, 71 Prisoner’s Dilemma, 69–71

Gandhi, Mohandas, 20, 139 Gauguin, Paul, 7, 206 Gauthier, David, 71 gender and ethics

female-only option, 188 gender-neutral morality, 179–180 instinct vs. social construction, 180–181 male-only option, 187 mutually inclusive option, 190 separate-but-equal option, 188–190 women and natural subservience, 177–178

women as objects of sexual desire, 178–179

gender-neutral morality, 179–180 Genovese, Kitty, 1, 4, 100 Gilligan, Carol, 182–183 Golden Mean, 137, 147 Golden Rule, 6, 9, 37, 84, 94 Golding, William, 64 Good Will, The, 117–118

H Hardin, Garrett, 90 Hare, Richard Mervyn, 94, 220, 248 Harman, Gilbert, 234, 238 hedonic calculus, 96 hedonistic utilitarianism, 96 hedonists, 47, 49 Hemingway, Ernest, 15 Henry, Carl F. H., 195 Herodotus, 14 Herskovits, Melville, 19 heteronomy, 128 Hick, John, 248 History of Western Philosophy (Russell), 247 Hitler, Adolf, 15, 20, 36, 94

I NDEX 257

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Hobbesian, 16, 36, 64–66 Hobbes, Thomas, 63, 64, 83–85, 87, 140 Hume, David, 95, 106, 114, 202–203,

213–215, 236–237, 247 Hutcheson, Francis, 95, 114 Huxley, Aldous, 48 Huxley, Thomas, 162–164 hypothetical imperative, 118–120

I Ibsen, Henrik, 20 imperative. See categorical imperative;

hypothetical imperative In a Different Voice (Gilligan), 182 inconsistent outcomes argument, 87–88 independence thesis, 196 indeterminacy of language, 24–25 indeterminacy of translation, 24 indiscriminate altruism, 164 instinct vs. social construction, 180–181 instrumental goods, 45 instrumental value thesis pluralistic ethics, 152–153 standard action-based ethics, 148

integrity objection, 107–108 intrinsic goods, 45 intuitionism, 115

J Jaggar, Alison, 175 James, William, 205, 247 Judeo-Christian worldview, 201 justice objection, 108–110 justice vs. care, 182–183

K Kalin, Jesse, 88 Kant, Immanuel, 9, 52, 113–133,

199–200, 247 Kavka, Gregory, 73 Kennedy, Robert, 94 Khomeini, Ayatollah, 209 Kierkegaard, Søren, 248 kin altruism, 165 King, Martin Luther Jr., 20, 139 kin selection, 162 Kluckhohn, Clyde, 25 Koestler, Arthur, 107 Kohlberg, Lawrence, 182–183 Kolbe, Maximilian, 138–139 Korsgaard, Christine, 120

Kraut, Richard, 56 Ku Klux Klan (KKK), 21

L Ladd, John, 17 Language of Morals, The (Hare), 220 law, morality and, 3–4 Leibniz, Gottfried, 114 Leviathan (Hobbes), 63 Levy, Paul, 139 Lewis, C. I., 102 Lincoln, Abraham, 79 Locke, John, 114 logical contradiction, 120 logic of moral reasoning, 222–223 Lord of the Flies (Golding), 64, 66 lying objection, 107

M MacIntyre, Alasdair, 145 Mackie, J. L., 147, 234 male-only option, 187 Mavrodes, George, 201 means–end condition, 32 Meditations (Descartes), 247 Medlin, Brian, 87 metaethics, 213 metaphysical element, 233 Milgram, Stanley, 128 Miller, Sarah Clarke, 186 Mill, John Stuart, 9, 50, 58, 81, 96–98,

120, 140 mixed deontological ethics, 132 moderate objectivism common human nature, 39–40 core morality, 37–39 definition, 29 description, 36–37

modest objectivist system, 132 Mond, Mustapha, 48 monists, 49 Moore, G. E., 51 Moore, George Edward, 215–216 moral absolutism, 29 moral behavior etiquette, 5–6 law and, 3–4 religion and, 3

moral conservatism, 99 moral diversity, 22–23

258 I NDEX

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moral explanatory model, 241 moral facts, 233 morality

descriptive, 2 divine command theory, 195–199 God and, 199–200 normative subjects and, 3–6 social benefits, 66–67 traditional, 167–172 values and, 52–55

moral judgments logic of moral reasoning, 222–223 prescriptivism, 225–227 prescriptivity, 220–222 principles, 224–225 universalizability, 223–224

moral life, vulnerability, 74–75 moral minimalist ethics, 144 moral nihilism, 234, 238–242 moral objectivism, 14, 29 moral particularism, 184 moral philosophy, 2 moral principles

overridingness, 7 practicability, 7 prescriptivity, 6 publicity, 7 universalizability, 6

moral realism elements, 233 happiness and suffering, 242–243 moral facts, 233 noncognitivism, 244–245 supervenient properties, 244 universals, 243–244

moral skepticism argument from projection, 236–237 argument from queerness, 235–236 argument from relativity, 235 definition, 234 error theory, 234–235 morality invention, 237–238

moral solipsism, 17 moral virtues, 136 Mother Teresa, 15, 20, 139, 208 motive

ethical assessment, 10 paradox ofmorality and advantage, 72–73 rational self-interest principle, 73–75

mutually inclusive option, 190

N naturalism, 227–230 naturalistic fallacy, 215–216 naturalistic moral realists, 233 natural law theory, 30–31 natural selection, 161 Nature of Morality, The (Harman), 238 nature-of-the-act condition, 32 negative responsibility, 100 Nicomachean Ethics (Aristotle), 137–138,

147 Nielsen, Kai, 99 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 248 Noddings, Nel, 185–186 noncognitive statement, 218 noncognitivism, 244–245 nonhedonists, 49–50 nonmoral virtues, 136 nonnaturalism, 233 nonnaturalistic moral realists, 233 no-rest objection, 104–105 Norton, David L., 144 Nowell-Smith, P. H., 204

O objective rightness, 103 objectivist element, 233 objectivists, 29 objects of sexual desire, 178–179 obligatory act, 8 obsolete theological–legal model,

142–143 On the Origin of Species (Darwin), 161 open-ended argument, 228–230 open-question argument, 215 optional act, 8 overridingness, 7

P paradox of ethical egoism, 89 paradox of hedonism, 80–81 paradox of masochism, 49 paradox of morality and advantage, 72–73 pathetic fallacy, 236 Perry, Ralph Barton, 51 Plato, 45, 51, 55, 67–69, 144, 247 pluralistic ethics

action-nature of the rules thesis, 151–152

definition, 146

I NDEX 259

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pluralistic ethics (continued) instrumental value thesis, 152–153 reductionist thesis, 152

pluralists, 49 posterity, problem of, 100 practicability, 7 practical contradiction, 120 prescriptive function, 220 prescriptivism, 225–227 prescriptivity, 6, 220–222 prima facie duties, 35, 130–131 prima facie solution, 131–132 Principia Ethica, 215 principle of autonomy, 120, 128–129, 145 principle of beneficence, 133 principle of ends, 120, 126–128 principle of justice, 133 principle of the law of nature committing suicide, 122–123 contradiction, 120 definition, 119 endorsing cheating, 123–124 genocide, 125 making a lying promise, 121–122 neglecting one’s talent, 122 prohibiting permissible actions, 124 refraining from helping others, 122 trivial actions, 123

Prisoner’s Dilemma, 69–71 proportionality condition, 32 prosocial behaviors, 159 psychological egoism definition, 78 paradox of hedonism, 80–81 predominant, 83–85 self-deception argument, 82 self-satisfaction argument, 78–80

publicity, 7 publicity argument, 88 publicity objection, 105 Pufendorf, Samuel, 116–117 pure altruism, 166–167 pure virtue-based ethics definition, 146 epistemological problem, 146–147 practical problem, 147

Q Quine, Willard V., 24 Qutb, Sayyid, 207

R Rachels, James, 204 Rand, Ayn, 86 rationalism, 114–115 rational self-interest, 73–75 Rawls, John, 7, 54, 56, 74, 133 reciprocal altruism, 166–167 reductionist thesis pluralistic ethics, 152 standard action-based ethics, 147

relativism objection, 106 religion and morality case against religion, 208–210 case for religion, 205–208 conflicts with moral autonomy, 204–205 divine command theory, 195–199 God, 199–200 immorality of God, 202–204 irrelevant/contrary, 200–205

remainder principle, 104 Republic, The (Plato), 45, 67, 247 Rescher, Nicholas, 45 right act, 8 right-intention condition, 32 Ross, William D., 35, 107, 130–131 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 178–179 rule-intuitionism, 116–117 rule-utilitarianism, 98–100 Russell, Bertnard, 200–201, 247

S Saint Francis, 15 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 248 satisfactionism, 47 Scheper-Hughes, Nancy, 19 Schweitzer, Albert, 139 scientific explanatory model, 240 self-deception argument, 82 self-fulfillment, 87 self-interest, 87 selfishness, 87 self-love, 87 self-satisfaction argument, 78–80 sensualism, 47 separate-but-equal option, 188–190 sexual selection, 162 Situation Ethics (Fletcher), 224 Smith, Adam, 85, 114 Sober, Elliott, 166 social contract theory, 62–69

260 I NDEX

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social order, 66–67 Socrates, 2, 139, 144 soft-inheritance, 161 Spinoza, Baruch, 114 standard action-based ethics

correspondence thesis, 147–149 responses to virtue-based criticisms, 150–151

state of nature, 16, 36–37, 63–64 Stevenson, Charles Leslie, 219 strong dependency, 23 subjective ethical relativism, 14–17 subjectivism, 14 Sumner, William Graham, 18, 22 supererogatory acts, 8 supervenient properties, 244 sympathy, 159

T teleological contradiction, 120 teleological ethics, 9, 95 theistic moral realists, 233 theological virtues, 136 theory of psychological egoism, 83 Through the Looking Glass (Carroll), 228 tolerance, 19–20 traditional morality, 167–172 Treatise of Human Nature, A (Hume), 213 tribal altruism, 164 Turnbull, Colin, 13, 23

U unconditional worth, 126 universalizability, 6, 120, 223–224 universals, 243–244 utilitarianism, 50, 132–133

act-utilitarianism, 98–100 classic, 95–98 comparative consequences objection, 102–103

consistency objection, 103–104 eudaimonistic, 97 formulation of, 101–102 hedonistic, 96 integrity objection, 107–108 justice objection, 108–110 lying objection, 107 no-rest objection, 104–105 publicity objection, 105

relativism objection, 106 rule-utilitarianism, 98–100 strengths of, 100–101 types of, 98

V values

classification, 45 morality and, 52–55 objective/subjective, 50–52 of pleasure, 47–50 types of, 45–47

veneer moral theory, 162–164 verification principle, 219 vices, 10, 135 virtue-based vs. action-based ethics, 141,

146–153 virtue ethics

definition, 135 nature of, 136

Virtue of Selfishness (Rand), 86 virtues, 10

cardinal, 136 care and, 185–186 moral, 136 nonmoral, 136 theological, 136

virtue theory, 10, 135 vulnerability, moral life, 74–75

W Warnock, Geoffrey, 148, 228 weak dependency, 23–24 Werner, Richard, 240 Wilberforce, William, 20 Williams, Bernard, 107, 108 Will to Believe (Kant and James), 247 Wilson, David Sloan, 166 Wilson, Edward O., 22, 25, 168 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 248 Wolff, Christian, 114 Wolf, Susan, 139 Wollstonecraft, Mary, 179–180 World Hunger Relief Organization,

93–95, 113 wrong act, 8

X Xenophon, 237

I NDEX 261

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  • Cover
  • Title
  • Statement
  • Copyright
  • About the Authors ����������������������������������������������������������������������
  • Contents �������������������������������������������
  • Preface ����������������������������������������
  • Ch 1: What Is Ethics?
    • Ch 1: Introduction
    • Ethics and Its Subdivisions ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Morality as Compared with Other Normative Subjects �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Traits of Moral Principles �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Domains of Ethical Assessment ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 1: Conclusion
    • Ch 1: Notes
    • Ch 1: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 2: Ethical Relativism
    • Ch 2: Introduction
    • Subjective Ethical Relativism ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Conventional Ethical Relativism ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Criticisms of Conventional Ethical Relativism ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 2: Conclusion
    • Ch 2: Notes
    • Ch 2: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 3: Moral Objectivism
    • Ch 3: Introduction
    • Aquinas‘s Objectivism and Absolutism �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Moderate Objectivism �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ethical Situationalism �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 3: Conclusion
    • Ch 3: Notes
    • Ch 3: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 4: Value and the Quest for the Good
    • Ch 4: Introduction
    • Types of Values ����������������������������������������������������������������
    • Foundational Nature of Values ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • The Good Life ����������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 4: Conclusion
    • Ch 4: Notes
    • Ch 4: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 5: Social Contract Theory and the Motive to Be Moral
    • Ch 5: Introduction
    • Why Does Society Need Moral Rules? �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Why Should I Be Moral? �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Morality, Self-Interest, and Game Theory
    • The Motive to Always Be Moral ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 5: Conclusion
    • Ch 5: Notes
    • Ch 5: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 6: Egoism, Self-Interest, and Altruism
    • Ch 6: Introduction
    • Psychological Egoism �������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ethical Egoism �������������������������������������������������������������
    • Arguments Against Ethical Egoism �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 6: Conclusion
    • Ch 6: Notes
    • Ch 6: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 7: Utilitarianism
    • Ch 7: Introduction
    • Classic Utilitarianism �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Act- and Rule-Utilitarianism
    • Criticism of Utilitarianism
    • Criticism of the Ends Justifying Immoral Means �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 7: Conclusion
    • Ch 7: Notes
    • Ch 7: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 8: Kant and Deontological Theories
    • Ch 8: Introduction
    • Kant’s Influences ����������������������������������������������������������������������
    • The Categorical Imperative �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Counterexamples to the Principle of the Law of Nature ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Other Formulations of the Categorical Imperative �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • The Problem of Exceptionless Rules �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Conclusion: A Reconciliation Project
    • Ch 8: Notes
    • Ch 8: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 9: Virtue Theory
    • Ch 9: Introduction
    • The Nature of Virtue Ethics ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Criticisms of Action-Based Ethics
    • Connections Between Virtue-Based and Action-Based Ethics
    • Ch 9: Conclusion
    • Ch 9: Notes
    • Ch 9: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 10: Biology and Ethics
    • Ch 10: Introduction
    • Moral Behavior in Animals ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Morality and Human Evolution �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • What Is Left for Traditional Morality? �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 10: Conclusion
    • Ch 10: Notes
    • Ch 10: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 11: Gender and Ethics
    • Ch 11: Introduction
    • Classic Views ����������������������������������������������������������
    • Female Care Ethics �������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Four Options Regarding Gender and Ethics �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 11: Conclusion
    • Ch 11: Notes
    • Ch 11: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 12: Religion and Ethics
    • Ch 12: Introduction
    • Does Morality Depend on Religion? ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Is Religion Irrelevant or Even Contrary to Morality? �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Does Religion Enhance the Moral Life? ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 12: Conclusion
    • Ch 12: Notes
    • Ch 12: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 13: The Fact–Value Problem
    • Ch 13: Introduction
    • Hume and Moore: The Problem Classically Stated
    • Ayer and Emotivism �������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Hare and Prescriptivism ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Naturalism and the Fact–Value Problem
    • Ch 13: Conclusion
    • Ch 13: Notes
    • Ch 13: For Further Reflection
  • Ch 14: Moral Realism and the Challenge of Skepticism
    • Ch 14: Introduction
    • Mackie’s Moral Skepticism ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Harman’s Moral Nihilism
    • A Defense of Moral Realism �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
    • Ch 14: Conclusion
    • Ch 14: Notes
    • Ch 14: For Further Reflection
  • Appendix: How to Read and Write a Philosophy Paper
  • Glossary �������������������������������������������
  • Index ����������������������������������
    1. 2015-12-15T23:45:54+0000
    2. Preflight Ticket Signature