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Lecture Notes

PHIL 440

Table of contents
  1. Week 1 Thursday: Well-Being
  2. Week 2 Tuesday: Act vs. Rule
  3. Week 2 Thursday: Longtermism
  4. Week 3 Tuesday: The Repugnant Conclusion
  5. Week 3 Thursday: The Non-Identity Problem
  6. Week 4 Tuesday: Scanlon’s Contractualism
  7. Week 5 Tuesday: Kumar and Obligations to Future Generations
  8. Week 7 Thursday: Introduction to Virtue Ethics
  9. Week 8 Tuesday: Utilitarianism and the Virtues
  10. Week 8 Tuesday: Meaning Across Generations
  11. Week 9 Tuesday: Radical Hope

Week 1 Thursday: Well-Being

  • What is distinctive of utilitarianism is that happiness is the only good, the only thing which matters for its own sake.
    • Are there other forms of pure good?
    • A weakness of utilitarianism? The only pure good?
  • Utilitarianism – the morally right act of policy is the one which produces the greatest happiness for members of society.
  • Utilitarianism is a tacit background upon which other theories assert and defend themselves
  • Many areas of economics, law, and public policy use utilitarian thinking.
  • Attractions
    • Intuition: well-being matters
    • Intuition: moral rules must be evaluated on consequences
    • Guides our actions: an argmax
    • Seems to be clear and transparent
    • Seems to be corrective over time: gives us a way of resisting mindless repetition or superstition
  • Does utilitarianism really work, deliver its promises?
    • WK: intuitions are good, but other theories do a better job of explaining theem. Other theories can do a better job.
    • There are many versions of utilitarianism, and internal conflict
    • Steve Gardiner dilemma:
      • Direct, clear implications – but implausible
      • Indirect, unclear implications – but more plausible
    • Six specific objections: pig philosophy, abhorrent actions, demandingness, separateness of persons, politics, psychology
  • Pig philosophy: Hedonistic focus of pleasure excludes important non-pleasures and includes Sadistic or immoral pleasures.
  • Three major components of utilitarianism
    • Consequentialism: the right thing to do is to bring about as much good as possible
    • Impartiality: all goods are counted equally
    • Welfarism: what is good is well-being and happiness only
  • “utility” as a treacherous term: usefulness, pleasure, happiness, benefit, well-being, preference-satisfaction, choices (revealed preference)
  • Philosophical welfarism: utility is well-being (theoretical heart of welfarism). Many varieties:
    • Mental state theories – hedonism, experiential
    • Desire-satisfaction
    • Objective accounts
  • Simple Hedonist view – all pleasure is the same, but we only find differences in quantity of pleasure. Everything that matters only matters because of its ability to produce pleasure.
    • Orgasmitron – gives you as much pleasure as you can have for as long as you can have it. This is the best life for a human being.
  • Objection: simple Hedonism is beneath us! Makes us slavish, pig philosophy (Voltaire, Aristotle, Nietzsche)
  • Bentham’s calculus: valuing different pleasures by intensity, duration, certainty, remoteness
  • Objection: pleasures are not all of one kind. Hadyn and the oyster. Short Hadyn life or indefinite oyster life? If you choose Hadyn, it defeats simple quantiative Hedonism. Need to account for different qualities of pleasure.
  • Experience machine: from Nozick, is living in the device better than living outside ‘in reality’? Plugging into the machine is a form of suicide. Other things than our experiences matter: reality, agency…
    • Shaw disagrees, the deathbed lie – white lies.
  • Desire-satisfaction accounts: what are actual vs. true preferences?
    • What do people actually want?
    • Give people what they would want if they were truly informed
  • Substantive content. The grass counter objection: can a good life be one counting grass? Crisp: this is no good life to live.
  • Shape: Callicle’s Vision. Socrates thinking about the desire-satsifaction principle: allow appetites to grow as large as possible, then to devote himself to them with intelligence and bravery. Cultivate things you want and go to achieve desire satisfaction. Socrates responds (rudely): the life of a stone curlew – eat and poops its entire life. The itchy life. Leaky bucket: pour satisfaction in constantly.
    • What solutions? Adaptive preferences and self-sufficient goods

Week 2 Tuesday: Act vs. Rule

  • Goal – to get people up to speed on utilitarianism, helps us also understand other theories and also for utilitarianism by itself.
  • Longtermism - act utilitarianism applied to the long-term. (Crudely put)
  • End of week, should decide presentation groups.
  • Common flaws – being sloppy about stating philosophical terms.
  • Utilitarianism has a strong historical role: changes social systems in the West to better promote utility
  • Traditionally, utilitarianism was a project of social reformers.
  • More recently, utilitarianism has a mixed reputation. Expectations are dependent / constructed by certain areas of society. Seen as a regressive rather than a progressive approach.
  • Cost-benefit analysis: used by contemporary economics: only do things if they have higher benefits than costs.
  • The rights objection
  • A classical problem: the body parts case. Suppose you are a transplant surgeon. You have 5 patients: one needs a kidney, another needs a heart, liver, etc. You don’t have them. Can you use the body parts of a destitute person with no prospects?
    • Utilitarianism doesn’t take rights or the individual seriously. You are a resource for others – and that is why you are important.
  • Responses
    • Response #1: further consequences. People will find out what you did and people will stop going to hospitals, etc. - real consequences will be worse for the ‘real world’. Argument: act utilitarianism wouldn’t tell you to cut up the destitute man.
    • Response #2: rule of thumb. A principle with broad application.
    • Smart’s extreme utilitarianism – we must never forget that act utilitarianism is always lurking in the background.
  • Rules of morality “for the multitude”
    • Signposts
    • Historical knowledge
  • Fundamental challenge: counter-intuitive?
  • Rule utilitarianism – we change our view of what kind of utilitarian we should be. What rules should we use in society?
    • People should not be act utilitarians in their daily lives.
    • Two-tier evaluation - government house utilitarianism; ‘rule worship’, collapse.
    • Response #4: So much the worse for common moral consciousness! You don’t want to cut up the destitute man only because of common morality.
  • Worries – leads to shocking results, how to test general ethical principles
  • Mill’s error theory: common sense moral rules are grounded already in utilitarianism – just an imperfect version, but it is always lurking there.

Week 2 Thursday: Longtermism

  • Longtermism – justify anti-abortion legislation?
  • Longtermism – implicit eugenicist purification of the body? We should invest in abstract, faceless future beings rather than the current underclass of beings: so when we do that, who gets to materialize / manifest the abstract, faceless future beings? Certainly not the underclass.
  • Theory of value – axiological component, theory of actions – deontic
  • Greaves - wants to say this is what we say about the value of the future, but we can say that without committing ourselves to a claim about what we ought to do about the future.
  • Axiology and deontology are likely highly separated.
  • Washing-out assumption: there’s not much that we can do which has long-term consequences.
  • The cluelessness objection to utilitarianism – we don’t know enough to actually maximize the good.
  • Maybe utilitarianism needs to advocate against utilitarianism to be truly utilitarian.
  • Objection of fanaticism: eexpected utility calculations reign supreme.
  • Utilitarianism: compare individuals’ utilities.
  • From an ethical point of view, we shouldn’t even be getting involved in utilitarian calculations. It violates our nomral understanding of morality and relationships. Uunconditionality on the part of true morality
  • Utilitarian calculus as a normative ethical theory alienates us from our humanity.
  • Axiological longtermism… for our world
  • Longtermism comes out of effective altruism: often a universalized approach towards our axiology
  • Longtermism understood in an act-utilitarian approach: objection, does not care how the utility/well-being is distributed over time. Shouldn’t we be concerned with the equity of well-being’s distribution?
  • Strong axiological longtermism - the long future is always more valuable than the expected value of anything in the short term.
  • Greaves: thinks that many people in her circle (economists, …) don’t think that justice and fairness matter much at all.
  • Deep trouble to be found in longtermism and effective altruistic ideology.

Week 3 Tuesday: The Repugnant Conclusion

  • Written in a particular style popular among utilitarian apologists
  • There are different ways to understand utilitarianism.
  • Total utilitarianism – maximizes total welfare, gives rise to a problem for utilitarianism
  • When we write philosophical statements, we want to pick out crucial features.
  • Average utilitarianism – avoids the repugnant conclusion. Mere addition paradox challenges average utilitarianism.
  • Modeling worlds example
  • Album amalogy
  • Additive aggregation is essential to the classical form of utilitarianism.
  • Contracturalism is rejection of additive aggregation.
  • Three principles of total utilitarianism: additive aggregation, welfarism, proportionalism
  • Is the repugnant conclusion actually repugnant?Nn
  • Recently – question whether the Repugnant Conclusion really is false – is it true?
    • Put forwards positive argument
    • Challenge credibilityh of our intuition
  • Insensitivity to popular wor-pro=be
  • Broome’s bridges

Week 3 Thursday: The Non-Identity Problem

  • A traditional identity-dependent view: future generations have a right that we do not harm them.
  • Parfit’s strategy: we should agree that there are strong moral reasons to be concerned with future generations. However, in many cases, we actually are not harming future people. Our moral reasons to be concerned with future generations cannot rest on oglibations not to harm people.
  • They rest on principle A or Q (really X) instead; A vs Q makes little practical difference but makes a large theoretical difference
  • Parfit converts contractualism into utilitarianism
  • Views which solve the non-identity problem have to rely upon principle A, and only some theories can endorse those – the quasi-utilitarian ones; the ones which can’t endorse it are non-consequentialist theories.
  • Same people choices – nuclear technician. Same particular people would be born in the next centuries. The choice not to check the tank is worse for people who later will be harmed. But is it morally relevant if people who the technician harms do not yet exist? Parfit says no.
  • Different people choices: risky policy. It is not true that the same particular people will exist two centuries later. Our choice of the policy will affect who actually lives in the future. Energy policies have a ripple effect – we experience different population compositions. What you have been born if World War II didn’t happen?
  • Metaphysics of personal identity: under what circumstances are persons in different possible histories the same person?
    • Claims:
      • The same person must have the same parents
      • The same person must come from the same sperm and egg, which provides the basic genetic material
    • To be the same person, you must be conceived at more or less exactly the same time as you were in fact conceived.
  • Contingent identity: lots of spermies in a cumdump
  • Core example: depletion vs conservation.
  • The depletion argument: Large-scale environmental policies are necessary to deal with many environmental problems. These also affect the conditions of conception. Because identity is contingent on the conditions of conception, large-scale environmental policies affect the identities of individuals who come into existence in succeeding generations.
  • If you think that depletion is morally wrong, it cannot have to do with someones’ being harmed.
  • “No practical difference view” – we on’t become less concerned with effects on ufture generations.
  • It is morally irrelevant that our choice will be worse for no one.
  • Rival ‘big difference’ view: maybe the non-identity problem is good and shows that the NIP should affect how we think in practice. Our objection to the risky policy should be much weaker and that it may be no objection at all. A theoretical move makes a big practical difference.
  • Why might the NIP matter theoretically?
    • An entire class of ethical theories accept the general principle that wrongs require victims, our choice cannot be wrong if we know that it willb e worse for no one.
    • Parfit’s theoretical argument: person-affecting principle (PIP) it is bad if particular people are affected for the worse.
    • Parfit’s argument:
      1. WRV (wrongs require victims) cannot solve the NIP because it is a PAP.
      2. All PAPs must be rejected.
      3. A large portion of commonsense morality require PAPs.
      4. All of these must be rejected too.
  • Rival principles
    • A/Q, same number changes. It is bad iif those who live are worse than those who might have lived, we don’t care about identity – it is irrelevant.
    • We have some significant moral reason to bring into existence people who are better off.
  • Motivating AQ
    • 14 y/o girl’s pregnancy. We cannot claim that it would be worse for this child that he could have been better.
    • The two choices differ in the alternatives: the objection to the choice is that her actual child is worse off than some later child would have been, supports principle A/X
  • Parfit doesn’t like the repugnant conclusion: the repugnant conclusion is not really that repugnant
  • Why talk about specific people? We don’t care about individual people, says the consequentialist. But for the non-consequentialist (WRV), pre-theoretically, suppose my generation continues to screw up climate change and ends up with a compromised form of existence. Future generations have a complaint: you should have done more, but you didn’t. You therefore violated a relationship with us.
  • Parfit: you can’t blame us because you wouldn’t have existed if not for our decision! You have no complaint against us. This annoys many moral theorists and future generations.
  • It’s hard to apply NIP due to the theroetical temporality of NIP.
  • NIP only gets a grip if you can guarantee that future people are above the minimal welfare; if you push welfare below the threshold, then you’ve harmed them – maybe this pushes into a non-consequentialist direction already.
  • A contractualist response – should we really care about technicalities of individuals when we could be considered with the relative position in society?
  • Select the suboptimal outcome – gives rise to some sort of harm.
  • Have we harmed people who have not been brought into existence?

Week 4 Tuesday: Scanlon’s Contractualism

  • Approach: keep on confronting Scanlon in different ways, ‘osmosis’ and immersion

Motivating Scanlon’s Contractualism

  • Major work in moral philosophy in the last century
  • Leading alternative to utilitarianism
  • Some cultural resonance
  • THe ultimate principle of morality is justifiability
  • Additive aggregation principle – summing utilities on a single numerical scale
  • Many utilitarians want to embrace the Repugnant Principle because they are so committed to utilitarianism that they odn’t want to give it up.
  • What could your eplace utilitarianism with?
  • Scanloni s trying to give you an alternative: utilitarianism operates all over the place. So this is a significant area, not just in philosophy. Aims at fundamental stuff which drives the way that we think in the world.
  • Additive aggregation implies that there is some number of trivial benefits which outweights a massive cost.
  • Contractualism denies additive aggregation, repugnant conclusion: focus on the impacts on people as individuals rather than in the aggregate.
  • Background, familiar objection to utilitarianism – separateness of persons objection; society is not a ‘super-person’. We cannot justify utilitarian trades: you make the sacrifice for benefits which accrue for you.
  • Scanlon’s pairwise approach: focus on the one with the strongest individual claim.
  • Contractualism returns the intuitive answer to additive aggregation, the transmitter room case: needs to be justifiable to everyone.

The Formula in Detail

  • Analytic philosophers: break the formula down into constituencies
    1. In the domain of interpersonal morality…
      • What do we owe each other? Harms, oglibations to aid, etc.
      • Contractualism does not exhaust morality (particularly impersonal reasons)
    2. …an action is morally right iff it is justifiable to each person
      • We are answerable to other people for our reasons to action.
      • Kantian overtones
      • Scanlon is a self-claimed not–a-Kantian
      • FOr contractualisms, it is the action itself which mattr=ers
      • What is jsti
    3. …for personal reasons – it maybe unfair, maybe arbitrary – gives you privileged or underpvieged status.
  • How to deal with reasons? Personal reasons don’t have to be highly specific to you, we can work with tegneric characeristics we have.
  • What cannot be appealed to in rejecting a moral principle?
    • personalist restriction: leads to an accountment which is impersonally bad, independent of its effects on people.
    • indvidualist restriction – reasonable rejection must occur by the principle’s implication only for ourselves, or any other individual
  • Yay rejecting utilitarianism! Ruling out aggregation in classical utilitarianism.
  • Conctractualism: only look at reasons that individual people have, does not allow pooling of reasons.

Week 5 Tuesday: Kumar and Obligations to Future Generations

  • Non-identity Problem again
  • Conservation vs depletion
  • Interpersonal and impersonal wrongs
  • A question of resentment – they will resent us because of what our choices mean for them.
  • Nonconsequentialism – how one person relates to another is entirely independent of what happens to the other as a consequence.
  • Being harmed is not even a necessary condition of being wronged.
  • Consequentialists aren’t concerned with harm: wronging is the relevant moral notion.
  • Scanlon’s contractualism
  • How can you wrong if you don’t exist?
  • Scanlon’s contractualism in terms of types and tokens – motivated by framing of contractualism: we wrong other people by failing to give them deliberative consideration of their interests to which they are entitled.
  • Persons as types – contractualism does not treat people as biological anyway.
  • What we owe to future people just depends on if they are of a type which would be disrespected by the made decision, regardless of their existence.
  • Past injustices: members of oppressed grouops – have grounds for complaint in the same way that all tokens of an oppressed type has a right to.

Week 7 Thursday: Introduction to Virtue Ethics

Williams’ Two Cases

  • Objections to utilitarianism – something distinctly problematic about utilitarianism – not petty like violating rights, calculation ambiguity, etc.
  • Smart and Williams: Utilitarianism, For and Against
  • George and the chemical and biological weapons job. George: chemistry PhD. Needs a job. Offerred a job in research for chemical warfare. George refuses out of conscience. George’s refusal will not change the situation. And a less conscientious person may take his position.
  • Jim and the Indians. Jim is tied up with other Indians who are to be executed; Jim is not from the land so he is offered the chance to shoot one of them so the remaining 19 will go free.
  • Utilitarians say take the job, kill the Indian
  • Williams: utilitarianism may give us the wrong answer in these cases, and it does, in the case of George.
  • Other objections: Obliviousness. Even if utilitarianism gets the right answer, it is for the wrong answer. Oblivious to many things going on in this case. The idea is that it is the agent itself which has to be involved in the activity. It is blind to the idea that each of us are responsible for what we do, rather than what others do.
  • Integrity
    • Quality of possessing and adhering to moral principles
    • Sound and undamaged
    • Complete, undivided
  • Utilitarians are not taking seriously what it means to live and life and to be us.
  • Perhaps there is a connection to virtue here: what it means to be an agent living the life that we are living.
  • Virtue ethics is about how to live your life in a way which counts for living an authentic life.

Status of Virtue Ethics

  • Julia Annas: virtue ethics is treated as the third thing, maybe? (but there were two before)
  • Late in the 20th century, virtue ethics starts to be treated seriously.
  • Virtue ethics is the default theory we have, throughout time and cultures – the Kantian, Benthanian, etc. ethics are upstarts, and virtue ethics is the dominant theory.
  • Virtue ethics subjected to bitte rand hostile criticism, dismissed quickly without any consideration.
  • Virtue ethics turns out to be quite radical in comparison to other theories. It answers questions in totally different ways and considers different questions to begin with.
  • Other theories often try to drag virtue ethics onto their own terrain.
  • We should focus on the classical versions of virtue ethics. They have a full structure, and there are different versions of them.
  • There are long traditions of different ways to be a virtue ethicist.
  • Modern VE is underdeveloped – we are reinventing the wheel, except the wheel is shit
  • Central role of reasoning to virtue ethics
  • Living virtuously and life itself
  • Virtue and naturalism

Central Ideas

  • Doesn’t think in a two-step account
  • Instead, each of us have our lives, there are challenges involved, and we want to live our lives well – and this is a skill which can be and is acquired.
  • We already have a lot going on in terms of reasons and understanding of things related to the good life.
  • We come into the life preconditioned with ideas from our cultures and upbringing – not coming into virtue ethics as blank slates, but it’s also aspirational. We want to live life better.
  • Socrates: originator of virtue ethics in the Western tradition. Executed partially because he was a revolutionary in this way of living. He would say bizarre things, like you shouldn’t have money and power if you aren’t virtuous.
  • My life, and our lives, have some sort of end – we have a life to live. It is living that life which is what I am fundamentally dealing with.
  • We want to achieve intenral unity.

Standard Objections

  • Virtue Ethics is biased: elitist, egoist, cultural influences
  • Virtue Ethics is naive: bad biology, V not necessary or sufficient for flourishing

Week 8 Tuesday: Utilitarianism and the Virtues

  • 1958: Elizabeth Anscombe, Modern Moral Philosophy. A bombshell. What is wrong with modern moral philosophy? Ethics had lost its way and the right thing to do was to turn back towards virtue ethics.
  • Manifesto with three theses:
    • Psychology – we must wait for a philosophy of psychology (philosophy of mind – action, etc.) for it to be profitable to do ethics
    • Moral ‘ought’ – the very notion is mistaken. It is too tightly linked to particular types of religious and philosophical traditions which regard the normative claim as a decisive idea – it has the weight of the gods behind it, it comes with a punch and seriousness. Anscombe: this conception of ethics is not so widespread, even among those who are believers. We need a weaker normatively, which we can get from the ancients. How to live the good life? This is enough for ethics.
    • Post-Sidgwick problem: differences between moral philosophers from Sidgwick (utilitarian, 1907) until 1958 weren’t very important. Arguing about topics important to tutilitarianism, but this is not really what we’re interested in.
  • Consequentialim’s deep root: hard to shake it off, even if you aren’t a consequentialist. What’s the deep root, and then how can we pull it out.
  • Consequentialism – states of affairs are good or bad, actions are to be judged by their outcomes.
  • consequentialism yields many results which are unacceptable to Foot.
  • The deep root of consequentialism: it is never right to prefer a worse state of affairs to a better one.
  • Are there really bette rand worse state of affairs in the way that consequentialism requires?
  • We always use good and bad in a speaker-relative way.
  • Not just reduction to self interest. But it is a personal issue, speaker relative.
  • Objection from the utilitarians – the best state of affairs in general, from ‘the moral point of view’? Consequentialism has to tell us why it is the best. Not all points of view in the world have states of affairs attached to them. The very claim that there is an overall best state of affairs begs the question.
  • We are tricked into consequntialism: error theory – benelovence is a virtue, but it is only one of many virtues.
  • Inside morality. In identifying the root cause, we found the root insidee morality, inside commonsense morality adn the judgements we already make. It’s not some independent requirement. The origins of the thought come from within the system of morality. There is no independent standard used by consequentialism.
  • In our ordinary moral code there are many other requirements and prohibitions. Benelovence is not the whole of morality.
  • We wouldn’t call unjust actions benelovent
  • Impartial observer. The God’s-eye view: promoting everyone’s well-being. This idealization of an impartial observer may be trying to be benelovent: but what about honesty, justice, etc. We have just assumed them away.
  • What is the point of morality? Surely it is not a code of manners. It is why we have the system, whether we should have them.
  • Morality as a rational device answerable to certain purposes. However, just with this thought we have re-introduced consequentialism. We haven’t introduced anything independent. Do we need to understand purpose in such a way?
  • Who has the end (the purpose) of morality which we have posited? Looks like the purpose has to come from some place external.
  • The consequentialist gives us one moral theory, and we don’t need to accept it. But we need to look for alternatives.
  • Aristotle’s moral philosophy?

Week 8 Tuesday: Meaning Across Generations

  • Reasons of love – reasons of love have a distinctive role in our lives.
  • Meaningfulness: subjective and obejctive elements.
  • Loving objects worthy of love and engaging with them in a positive way.
  • ‘Worthy of love’ – objective standard
  • Meaningful life – finding passion and pursuing it. Passion gives the subject a rewarding experience
  • How can we be involved with something larger than ourselves?
  • Scheffler - PD James thought experiment. Four reasons to care for future generations: individual interests, love of humanity, value, reciprocity
  • We we have motivations

Week 9 Tuesday: Radical Hope

  • Instability is the dominant feature of the Anthropocene
  • What are the appropriate objects of hope.
  • Hope is not just a desire, or just a mental image (too strong of a requirement).
  • Presentational phenomenology – when we hope for something, we experience something differently than if we didn’t hope for it
  • How to determine probability? What is to distinguish the boundary between impossibile (probability 0) and very implausible (very close to 0)
  • Encouragement: the arrangement of beliefs and desires in congruence with what we hope for
  • Radical hope as an attitude of hope, not restricted to a specific object which is hoped for
  • What satisfies conditions?
  • Capabilities are freedoms and opportunities available to an agent to achieve a certain state of being.
  • Functionings – to have a capability, to be able to access a certain set of functionings
  • The object of radical hope is – capability based ideals
    • Given this, I can only hope for good items or good outcomes.