Review Sheet: Chapt. 1: The Moral Point of View Moral concerns are unavoidable in life. Ethics

Ch 6 – The Ethics of Duty – Immanuel Kant

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Ch 6 – The Ethics of Duty – Immanuel Kant

  • More than any other philosopher, Kant emphasized the way in which the moral life was centered on duty.

  • Duty as following orders

    • The Adolph Eichmann model

    • Duty is external

    • Duty is imposed by others

  • Duty as freely imposing obligation on one’s own self

    • The Kantian model

    • Duty is internal

    • We impose duty on ourselves

The second conception of duty is much more morally advanced than the first.

  • “I had known the Categorical Imperative, but it was in a nutshell, in a summarized form. I suppose it could be summarized as, ‘Be loyal to the laws, be a disciplined person, live an orderly life, do not come into conflict with laws’—that more or less was the whole essence of that law for the use of the little man.”

  • Adolph Eichmann

  • The example of Edmund Ross

    • He voted against Jackson’s impeachment as a matter of duty

  • The Grocer Example

    • The grocer with regular customers might be honest just out of self-interest.

  • Duty and Utility: The Suicide Example

  • Kant was mistrustful of inclinations (Neigungen) as motivations

    • This was part of his view of the physical world as causally determined

  • Saw feelings as

    • Unreliable

    • Passive

  • Phenomenal

  • The Man of duty

  • “Suppose then that the mind of this friend of man were overclouded by sorrows of his own which extinguished all sympathy with the fate of others, but that he still had power to help those in distress, though no longer stirred by the need of others because sufficiently occupied with his own; and suppose that, when no longer moved by any inclination, he tears himself out of this deadly insensibility and does the action without any inclination for the sake of duty alone; then for the first time his action has its genuine moral worth. Still further: if nature had implanted little sympathy in this or that man’s heart; if (being in other respects an honest fellow) he were cold in temperament and indifferent to the sufferings of others—perhaps because, being endowed with the special gift of patience and robust endurance in his own sufferings, he assumed the like in others or even demanded it; if such a man (who would in truth not be the worst product of nature) were not exactly fashioned by her to be a philanthropist, would he not still find in himself a source from which he might draw a worth far higher than any that a good-natured temperament can have? Assuredly he would. It is precisely in this that the worth of character begins to show—a moral worth and beyond all comparison the highest—namely, that he does good, not from inclination, but from duty.”

  • --Groundwork of a Metaphysics of Morals

  • Criticisms

  • Moral Minimalism

    • Requirements are not heartfelt

  • Moral Alienation

    • Alienated from feelings

  • Duty and “Just Following Orders”

  • This is not Kant’s genuine position

  • The Categorical Imperative and Universalizability

  • Central insight:

  • What is fair for one is fair for all

  • Most of us live by rules much of the time. Some of these are what Kant called Categorical Imperatives—unconditional commands that are binding on everyone at all times.

  • Types of Imperatives”

  • Hypothetical Imperative:

    • “If you want to drive to UCLA from San Diego, take the 405 freeway.”

    • Structure: if…then…

  • Categorical Imperative

    • “Always tell the truth”

  • Unconditional, applicable at all times.

  • Maxims

  • Maxims, according to Kant, are subjective rules that guide action.

    • Relevant Act Description

    • Sufficient Generality

  • All actions have maxims, such as,

    • Never lie to your friends.

    • Never act in a way that would make your parents ashamed of you.

    • Always watch out for number one.

    • It’s ok to cheat if you need to.

  • “Always act in such a way that the maxim of your action can be willed as a universal law of humanity.”

  • --Immanuel Kant

  • Respect

  • “Always treat humanity, whether in yourself or in other people, as an end in itself and never as a mere means.”

  • --Immanuel Kant


  • Always act in such a way that you would not be embarrassed to have your actions described on the front page of The New York Times.

  • --Probably not Bill Clinton

Categorical Imperatives

  • “I know the questions to ask. It’s the answers I’m after. And what about learning how to live? Isn’t that philosophy too? What’s yours?”

  • The reply had come easily but, she had thought, with honesty. “To get as much happiness as I can. Not to harm others. Not to whine. In that order.”

  • Adam Dalgliesh, in reply to Kate Miskin’s question

  • P. D. James, A Certain Justice


  • Is it possible to universalize a maxim that permits lying?

  • What is the maxim?

    • It’s ok to cheat when you want/need to?

  • Can this consistently be willed as a universal law?

  • No, it undermines itself, destroying the rational expectation of trust upon which it depends.

Academic Cheating

  • Cheating involves not playing by the rules. Is it possible for the cheater to will his/her maxim as a universal law?

  • No, because then others (including the teacher) could refuse to follow the rules as well, failing the cheater even with a good grade.

  • Exceptions

  • Are exceptions possible for Kant?

    • Yes, as long as they can be consistently universalized


    • The speeding car

      • We can universalize an exception for something like ambulance drivers

    • The Gestapo example

      • Can we universalize a maxim to deceive in order to save innocent lives? No.

  • Never lie

  • In an essay written near the end of his life, Kant maintained that you are never justified in telling a lie.

    • Franco-Prussian rivalry

    • Beliefs about causality—if you do the right thing, you are not responsible for bad outcomes.

The Categorical Imperative: Respect for persons:

Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end. Kant, Groundwork of a Metaphysics of Morals

  • Respect for self as well as for others.

  • Instruction about how to act, not how to feel.

  • Some element of using people as means is permissible, only using them exclusively as means is prohibited.

  • Using Persons as Means

  • Syphilis Experiments

  • Factory closings

  • Firing longtime employees

  • Respect requires action

  • Do not take away conditions of moral agency or autonomy from others

    • 1. access to information necessary for rational decision/autonomy

    • 2. freedom to act on basis of information

  • Recognize unique value of each individual

What to respect?

  • Person’s ability to reason.

  • Not animals, they have no reason. Indirect duty to respect animals because of the effect lack of respect would have on us.

  • No direct duty to respect feelings.

  • Create space for other voices – Gilligan.

  • Examples of failure to respect oneself

  • Examples of failure to respect oneself:

  • The Uncle tom

  • The self-deprecator

  • The deferential wife.


  • Doing one’s duty deserves admiration.

  • Duty is evenhanded – treat everyone in the same way

  • Respect other persons


  • Neglect of moral integration – duty and inclination need to be integrated along with split between reason and emotion

  • Role of emotions neglected

  • Consequences ignored

  • Kant saw that morality must be fair and evenhanded.

  • The Kantian path offers a certain kind of moral safety in an uncertain world.

Ch 7. The Ethics of Rights
Initial Distinctions

  • Rights holders: permission to act, an entitlement

  • Rights observers: duty or obligation

    • Negative – refrain from interfering with rights holder’s exercise of the right (freedom of speech)

    • Positive – assist in the successful exercise of the right (housing, education, health care)

  • Responsibility on the part of the rights holder about how to exercise the right – right limited by harm to others.

Classification of Strengths

  • Absolute rights - cannot be overriden by other types of considerations that do not involve rights – (not to be tortured?)

  • Prima Facie rights – at first glance it appears applicable but may be outweighed by considerations

Justification of Rights

  • Self-evidence: seem obvious but usually an unhelpful category in settling disputes.

  • Divine foundations: natural rights founded in God. A source of claim against the crown and part of the deep structure of the world. Not viable for nontheists and no language of rights in religious traditions.

  • Natural law: natural order is fundamentally good (created by God). No basis again for nontheists.

  • Human nature: characteristics essential to humans confer rights

Human Nature and Rights

Rights conferring properties of humans include

  • The fact of being born a human being

  • Rationality, the ability to think

  • Autonomy, the ability to make free choices

  • Sentience, the ability to feel and suffer

  • The ability to be a “self” or person

  • The ability to have projects and plans

Who has rights?

  • Future generations: we think of rights belonging only to existing individuals.

  • Animals: do they have rights conferring properties? Sentience, interests, free will, rationality? What rights do animals have?

Types of Rights

Negative Rights:

  • Liberty: political movements

  • Life: no one entitled to kill us: capital punishment, abortion, war, animal rights to life, end of life

  • Property:

  • Equality: civil rights

Positive Rights

  • Rights to well-well being: physical security, employment, goods necessary for subsistence.

  • Social contract rights: belonging to particular societies at particular times – rights of persons with disabilities,

Limits of Rights

  • Nonsense on stilts – rights are moral fictions embedded in particular societies, not universal. Are rights basic or just useful for society and result of decisions about how society will be governed.

  • Rights emphasize isolated autonomy

  • Liberty – each person as an island

  • Privacy

Role of Rights in Moral Life

Exclusive emphasis on rights distorts total vision of moral life.
Ch 8 - Justice – From Plato to Rawls

Plato’s Account of Justice

  • Conventional View: Helping Friends and Harming Enemies

  • Cynical View: Might Makes Right

  • Plato’s View: Harmony, internal and external – inner harmony of faculties of the soul; outer harmony of social classes.

John Rawls’s Distributive Justice

  • Egalitarianism: treat everyone as fairly as possible.

  • The Original Position: A Thought Experiment: act rationally to bring about best interests of the people

  • Social Contract

  • Veil of Ignorance: pretend ignorance of your gender, race, ethnicity, age, income, locality. Divide benefits to level playing field.

The Difference Principle

  • The Difference Principle:

  1. Social and economic inequalities are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity

  2. They are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.

Non-Rawlsian Distributive Justice

Distribution of Scarce Goods – example of organ transplant

  1. Rawlsian approach: go to the medically most needy and likeliest to succeed.

  2. Egalitarian approach: have a lottery

  3. Welfare or utilitarian approach: those most likely to have a long life should get the kidney

  4. Libertarian or market-based: give it to the highest bidder

Justice and the Politics of Difference

Iris Marion Young’s Justice and the Politics of Difference (1990)

Views justice in terms of overcoming oppression and domination.

Exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence.

Civil Rights Movement, feminism and other political movements.

Sen and Nussbaum

  • Amartya Sen: connection of poverty, freedom and justice. Stay close to the ground and look for ways of making things better. Not Rawls’s original position where specific cultural heritages are banished but with the concrete and how to improve it.

  • Martha Nussbaum: capabilities approach: life, bodily health, bodily integrity, freedom of travel, bodily safety, forms of affiliation, play, imagination and concern for other species.

Criminal Justice

  • Retributive Justice: lex talionis, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Inflicting such punishment can itself be debasing or simply impossible.

  • Compensatory Justice: proportional compensation to the victim

  • Restorative Justice: set the record straight about what happened during oppression.

  • Justice as Hozho: Navajo notion of harmony through ceremonial restoration of relationships.

  • Global Justice: either just solutions to global problems or global conception of justice cutting across national, regional and cultural boundaries.

The Just War Tradition

  • Jus ad bellum: the just conditions for entering into a war

  1. Just cause

  2. Right intention

  3. Publicly declared by a lawful authority

  4. Last resort

  5. Probability of success

  • Jus in bello: the just conduct of war

  1. Discriminate between combatants and civilians

  2. Principle of proportionality

  3. Use no means that are evil in themselves

  • Jus post Bellum: A Just Peace following the war

  1. Just cause for termination

  2. Right intention

  3. Public declaration and legitimate authority

  4. Discrimination

Environmental Justice

  • Famine and atmospheric and water pollution transcend national boundaries. Small developing countries may feel the effects of large highly industrialized countries directly through pollution, reduced air and water quality as well as sea level rise from global warming. They may experience the polluting effects of foreign owned industry.

  • Spread of disease in an era of international travel.

  • Is it fair for some nations and their populations to suffer harmful consequences of actions taken by other nations with knowing disregard of their negative consequences.

Economic Exploitation

  • Manufacturing processes cross national boundaries. Labor is cheaper and environmental and safety restrictions more lax, natural resources more easily and cheaply available in developing countries.

How achieve economic justice in a world of radical economic disparities?
Justice Is fundamental

  • Justice is a fundamental moral concept.

  • What is the meaning of justice

  • How do we make the world a just place?

  • Justice is the foundation of a lasting world peace.

Ch 9 – The Ethics of Character – Vices and Virtues
Concern for character has flourished in the West since the time of Plato, whose early dialogues explored such virtues as courage and piety
Two Moral Questions:

  • The Question of Action:

- How ought I to act?

  • The Question of Character:

- What kind of person ought I to be?

Our concern here is with the question of character

Analogy with Criminal Justice System

As a country, we place our trust for just decisions in the legal arena in two places:

  1. Laws, which provide the necessary rules

  2. People, who (as judge and jury) apply rules judiciously

Similarly, ethics places its trust in:

  1. Theories, which provide rules for conduct

  2. Virtue, which provides the wisdom necessary for applying rules in particular instances.

  • Virtue: Strength of character (involving both feeling and action)

  • Seeks the mean between excess and deficiency relative to us

  • Promotes human flourishing

Two Conceptions of Morality

  • We can contrast two approaches to the moral life.

--The childhood conception of moral life

  • Comes from outside (usually parents)

  • Is negative (“don’t touch that stove burner)

  • Rules and habit formation are central.

---The adult conception of morality

  • Comes from within (self-directed_

  • Is positive (“this is the kind of person I want to be”)

Virtue centered, often modeled on ideal
Purpose of Morality

  • Both of these conceptions of morality are appropriate at different times in life.

  • Adolescence and early adulthood is the time when some people make the transition from the adolescent conception of morality to the adult conception.

Rightly Ordered Desires

  • Aristotle draws an interesting contrast between:

  • Continent people, who have unruly desires but manage to control them.

  • Temperate people, whose desires are naturally—or through habit, second-nature—directed toward that which is good for them.

  • Weakness of will (akrasia) occurs when individuals cannot keep their desires under control.

  • Moral education may initially seek to control unruly desires through rules, the formation of habits, etc.

  • Ultimately, moral education aims at forming rightly-ordered desires, that is, teaching people to desire what is genuinely good for them.

Character and Human flourishing

  • Aristotle on Human Flourishing

- functional context: a good hammer nails well, a good guitar is capable of making good music.

- unique properties: for humans reasoning or thinking: for Aristotle, the contemplative life leads to happiness. Largely determined by leisure.

- for Aristotle happiness is related to practical wisdom. Deliberating well promotes flourishing and a recognition of political conception of happiness – that humans are happy in a social context.

  • Pluralistic approach recognizes humans have many goals, contemplative and social. Some restraints on goals from our social and intellectual natures.

Assessing Aristotle’s Account of Flourishing

  • Anti-reductionistic – not lowest common denominator.

  • Holism – other extreme: highest common denominator. Overemphasis on role of thinking not totality of human functions.

  • Ethics for nobility – ethics for privileged ruling class, free, adult Greek males.

Contemporary Accounts

  • External impediments to human flourishing:

- social factors: economics, architecture of living and work environments

  • Internal Impediments:

- Freud’s or Jung’s balance of psychological factors

- Maslow’s peak experiences

- we are our own worst enemies; flourishing is primarily a state of mind rather than a state of matter.
Aristotle’s Definition of Virtue

  • External impediments to human flourishing:

- social factors: economics, architecture of living and work environments

  • Internal Impediments:

- Freud’s or Jung’s balance of psychological factors

- Maslow’s peak experiences

- we are our own worst enemies; flourishing is primarily a state of mind rather than a state of matter.
Habits of Soul

  • According to Aristotle virtue is a hexis, a dispostion or habit.

  • We are not born with virtues. We acquire them through imitation of role models and practice.

  • Moral education focusses on the development of character, or what Aristotle calls “soul.”

Feeling and Action

  • For Aristotle virtue is not just acting in a particular way but feeling certain ways.

  • Virtue includes emotion as well as action.

  • The compassionate person not only helps to alleviate suffering but has feelings toward others’ suffering.

Exclusion of feeling from moral consideration led to problems for Kantian theory, utilitarianism and egoistic theories. Aristotle’s inclusion of the emotive character of virtue overcomes this objection.
The golden mean:

  • Strength of character (virtue), Aristotle suggests, involves finding the proper balance between two extremes.

--Excess: having too much of something

--Deficiency: having too little of something

  • Not mediocrity, but harmony and balance.

  • See examples below.


  • The strength of character necessary to continue in the face of our fears.

-Deficiency: cowardice, the inability to do what is necessary to have those things in life which we need in order to flourish.

      • Too much fear

      • Too little confidence

-Excess: Rashness

  • Too little fear.

  • Too much confidence

  • Poor judgment about ends worth achieving

Courage and Gender

  • Women are not warriors: For Aristotle, women can’t be courageous in the fullest sense. They weren’t allowed to fight in wars. Only in 2011 have women been permitted active combat roles in America.

Under-recognition of Women’s Courage: Native American and European pioneer women required courage. Childbirth requires courage. Courage in response to emotional and physical abuse. Developmental challenges going from girlhood to womanhood.

  • Compassion begins in feeling.

  • Compassion needs action.

  • Moral imagination needed to translate feeling into action.

  • Compassion is not pity – acknowledges a kind of moral equality.


  • Involves feelings as well as acting and knowing.

  • Loving Others – wants to see the other flourish.

  • Loving Ourselves – not unconditional self-approval, involves self-examination and deep concern for welfare of the self.

  • Self-love involves a self that is engaged in the world.

  • Self-love demands self knowledge.

Practical Wisdom

  • Application of specific excellence of character to a particular situation in light of an overall conception of the good life.

  • Knowing how to achieve a particular end and which ends are worth striving to achieve.

  • The virtues are interdependent.

  • Practical wisdom is difficult and elusive.

Ethical Pluralism and Practical Wisdom

  • Balance competing theories in particular situations.

  • Admit all relevant moral considerations and seek best balance.

Act-oriented traditions needed to balance character ethics. This is practical wisdom.

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