Respond to each item below in 2–3 paragraphs. Use Learning Resources,
o Please copy and number each question. Put your answer below each question.
o (1) What is moral relativism? How is moral relativism generally viewed today? Why?
o (2) What is natural law theory? In particular, how does it determine whether an action is good or bad? How have ethicists’ opinions of this theory changed over time? Why?
o (3) What was Aristotle’s view of the world and humanity’s place in it? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
o (4) What is social contract theory? How is social contract theory viewed today? Why?
o (5) What is utilitarianism? Name and explain three features and criticisms of it.
• Identify and explain one major objection to utilitarianism. What are the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism?
• Identify and explain one major objection to Kantianism. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Kantianism?
• What are the five aims of torture? Which aim can the liberal (in theory) accept and why? Why must the liberal reject the four others? [Remember: The word liberal here refers to any believer in liberty—that is, in a free society that respects human rights. The opposite of liberal in this context is illiberal or unfree, not conservative.] How is this liberal ideology expressed in the ticking time bomb experiment?
• What are the psychological effects of prolonged solitary confinement? Is solitary confinement an effective tool for rehabilitation? Why? Refer to both Harlow’s experiments with monkeys and to research and experiences involving adult humans.
• In Chapter 38, why does Bright think that it would be harmful to society’s morals if we were to murder murderers, rape rapists, and torture torturers? Why does Bright think that the use of the death penalty undermines the standing and moral authority of the United States? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
• Which nations are the top executors in the world? How many citizens does the United States execute each year? What percentage of murders are punished with the death penalty? Is there a correlation between lower murder rates and greater use of the death penalty in the regions of the United States? Do people convicted of war crimes like genocide receive the death penalty?
• In Chapter 16, Huemer argues that one has a right to use drugs. He also declares that this right is not absolute or exceptionless. Explain the author’s argument with support from your readings. Do you think this argument supports or refutes the war on drugs? Why?
• Identifies the three main ideas that guide the conduct during a just war. What are they? Additionally, what are the rules of last resort and just peace?
• Explain how religions or other organized groups have applied the concept of a just war throughout history.
• What reasons for going to war are considered just causes today? Which are not?
• In Chapter 41, why does Rawls consider the fire-bombing and atomic bombing of Japanese cities during WWII to be deeply immoral? What is his view on utilitarian calculation? Do you agree with Rawls or not? Why?
• What are reasons people do or do not turn to religion to resolve moral dilemmas? Why?
• Why does Sullivan hold that a free society (or “a liberal state”) is obligated to allow gays to marry?
• Evaluate Leiser’s argument when natural is interpreted to mean: (1) following the descriptive laws of nature, (2) not artificial, and (3) common/statistically normal.
• Evaluate Leiser’s argument when natural is defined as good and anything unnatural is defined as bad.
You are on a lifeboat with 11 people (including you) aboard. The water surrounding the lifeboat is freezing such that no one would survive in the water. There is no rescue ship in sight and worse yet, the lifeboat is sinking. You notice a sign posted on the lifeboat that reads ”Capacity 10 normal-sized persons.” Looking around you notice 10 normal-sized persons (including you) and one 400-pound man. No one wants to jump out of the boat, and if nothing is done it will sink leaving all 11 to die.
A. Push the 400-pound man out of the boat to save everyone else. (Achieving the greater good).
B. Refuse to push the 400-pound man-or anyone else-out of the boat and hope for a miracle.
• In a 1- to 2-page paper, do the following:
• For Part One, take the consequentialist viewpoint. What would the consequentialist say was the right answer for the 400-pound man in the lifeboat? Does he live or die? Defend your answer as would a consequentialist, explaining whether you decided to push the 400-pound man overboard or let him stay in the boat.
• For Part Two, take the nonconsequentialist viewpoint. How does the nonconsequentialist approach to ethics bode for the passengers on the lifeboat? Put on your nonconsequentialist-colored lenses and share your thoughts on the passengers’ hope for survival. Defend your answer as would a nonconsequentialist, explaining whether you decided to push the 400-pound man overboard or let him stay in the boat.
• Look back at your personal decision about what you would do in the situation and say whether your decision remains unchanged with the new knowledge you’ve gained from this lesson or if it has changed. Explain why or why not.
Ethics: Lecture Notes: “Why Ethicists—Even Religious Ones—Do Not Appeal to Religion”
In our society, religion is viewed as very closely tied with ethics. Often, ethical rules are viewed as divinely given. And religious views often profoundly shape and impact our moral debates on homosexuality, euthanasia, abortion, and the death penalty.
However, as a rule, professional ethicists do not appeal to religion in trying to address these issues. Why? Well, one explanation could be that many ethicists just aren’t that religious. While it’s true that ethicists, along with scholars and scientists more generally, are less religious than the general U.S. population, there are far deeper reasons. In fact, even ethicists who are religious do not invoke religion when trying to resolve a moral dispute.
One core reason is that philosophers, which ethicists are (ethics is a branch of philosophy), are committed to the use of reason to resolve a controversy. The use of reason (as opposed to feeling) to resolve a dispute is the defining feature of philosophy. And reason, as Catholic philosophers have always agreed, is a tool available to all. (The relationship of Protestantism to reason is more vexed.) Ideally, philosophers want to produce arguments that can convince anyone of any religion. It’s no use to quote the Bible or the Koran to a Buddhist!
Another reason goes all the way back to Plato. These reasons were examined under the heading of Divine Command Theory in your reading for the first week, which introduced moral theory. Essentially, the idea is that if God (or the gods, for Plato, a pagan) exists, then if God issues moral commands, he/she does not just make them up. God does not just arbitrarily issue moral commands. No, God issues commands based on reasons. God wouldn’t issue a silly command like, “Thou Shalt Not Eat Cheetos … Only Doritos.” Any commandment has reasoning behind it. And those are the reasons philosophers are after. So assume God says, “Don’t Kill.” God didn’t just make that up for no reason. The idea would be that God prohibited killing for the good and happiness of society (a utilitarian justification) or that God prohibited killing because we are made in his image and, thus, have dignity and rights (a Kantian justification).
A final reason is more controversial. Many philosophers, even religious ones, just don’t think religious texts are infallible moral guides. For example, the Old Testament not only forbids homosexuality but commands that homosexuals (and many, many others) be stoned and some even burned alive. Even the most conservative among us wouldn’t think it appropriate to execute gays and lesbians even if we happen to disapprove of homosexuality. (Though unfortunately, there are countries like Iran, and some American pastors, who disagree.) And the New Testament, which likewise condemns homosexuality, contains passages explicitly condoning slavery. For example, Ephesians 6:5 says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” (These passages and others like it were used to justify slavery in the American South.”)
Elsewhere the New Testament admonishes (Corinthians 14:34): “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.” And so, even if one accepts a religious text as a moral guide, it is hard to know what parts should be heeded. One thing is certain; it isn’t justified to simply cherry-pick texts with which one agrees. For example, Jesus explicitly forbids divorce, but he makes no mention of homosexuality. It would seem easier to permit homosexuality than divorce. Additionally, religious texts do not, in general, offer fully worked out moral theories that we can apply to all situations. This is especially clear when we consider new technologies like genetic engineering.
So, in sum, this is why ethicists, even religious ones, do not appeal to religion in resolving ethical dilemmas.
Burton Leiser, “Homosexuality and the “Unnaturalness Argument”
[The alleged “unnaturalness” of homosexuality] raises the question of the meaning of nature, natural, and
similar terms. Theologians and other moralists have said that … [homosexual acts] violate the ,.natural law:’
and that they are therefore immoral and ought to be prohibited by the state.
The word nature has a built-in ambiguity that can lead to serious misunderstandings. When something is
said to be “natural” or in conformity with Anatural law” or the “law of nature, this may mean either (1) that
it is in conformity with the descriptive laws of nature, or (2) that it is not artificial, that man has not
imposed his will or his devices upon events or conditions as they exist or would have existed without such
I The Descriptive laws of Nature
The laws of nature, as these are understood by the scientist, differ from the laws of man. The former are
purely descriptive,,whereas the latter are prescriptive. When a scientist says that water boils at 212′
Fahrenheit or that the volume of a gas varies directly with the heat that is applied to it and inversely with
the pressure, he means merely that as a matter of recorded and observable fact, pure water under standard
conditions always boils at precisely 212′ Fahrenheit and that as a matter of observed fact, the volume of a
gas rises as it is heated and falls as pressure is applied to it. These “laws” merely describe the manner in
which physical substances actually behave. They differ from municipal and federal laws in that they do not
prescribe behaviour. Unlike manmade laws, natural laws are not passed by any legislator or group of
legislators; they are not proclaimed or announced; they impose no obligation upon anyone or anything; their
“violation” entails no penalty, and there is no reward for “following” them or “abiding by” them. When a
scientist says that the air in a tire “obeys” the laws of nature that “govern” gases, he does not mean that the
air, having been informed that it ought to be- have in a certain way, behaves appropriately under the right
conditions. He means, rather, that as a matter of fact, the air in a tire will behave like all other gases. In
saying that Boyle’s law “governs” the behavior of gases, he means merely that gases do, as a matter of fact,
behave in accordance with Boyle’s law, and that Boyle’s law enables one to predict accurately what will
happen to a given quantity of a gas as its pressure is raised; he does not mean to suggest that some heavenly
voice has proclaimed that all gases should henceforth behave in accordance with the terms of Boyle’s law
and that a ghostly policeman patrols the world, ready to mete out punishments to any gases that “violate”
the heavenly decree. in fact, according to the scientist, it does not make sense to speak of a natural law
being violated. For if there were a true exception to a so called law of nature, the exception would re- quire
a change in the description of those phenomena, and the “law”.would have been shown to be no law at all.
The laws of nature are revised as scientists discover new phenomena that require new refinements in their
descriptions of the way things actually happen. In this respect they differ fundamentally from human laws,
which are revised periodically by legislators who are not so interested in describing human behavior as they
are in prescribing what human behavior should be.
2 The Artificial as a Form of the Unnatural
On occasion when we say that something is not natural, we mean that it is a product of human artifice. My
typewriter is not a natural object, in this sense, for the substances of which it is composed have been
removed from their natural state-the state in which they existed before men came along-and have been
transformed by a series of chemical and physical and mechanical processes into other substances. They
have been rearranged into a whole that is quite different from anything found in nature. In short, my
typewriter is an artificial object. In this sense, the clothing that I wear as I lecture before my students is not
natural, for it has been transformed considerably from the state in which it was found in nature; and my
wearing of clothing as I lecture before my students is also not natural, in this sense, for in my natural state,
before the application of anything artificial, before any human interference with things as they are, I am