Home Quotes Biographies Free Essays and Articles Discussion Forum  

 

Bernard Mayo claims that classical moral theory, such as that of Aristotle, is better than modern ethics of duty, such as that of Kant. Mayo shows that while Kant focused on duties (categorical imperatives), Aristotle focused on character traits. Aristotle did not ask: What shall I do? But, What shall I be? Furthermore, Mayo argues that there are in fact connections between being and doing. Mayo uses courage as an example of how both Utilitarians and Kantians would have to use circumlocution to explain motives, while Aristotelians can simply praise some motives as virtues. Next Mayo argues that the morality of being something gives a unity to the answer “What ought I to do”. Mayo gives another response to this question by saying to be like a saint or hero. Mayo presents the example of being like a saint or hero in order to show how Kantian ethics by rules is less flexible than ethics by character (Aristotle). Ultimately Mayo concludes by saying that while ordinary humans can never be saints, it is enough if they just try to be a little more like them.

 

the Dependency Thesis is wrong, and that there are in fact universal moral principles, which are based on a common human nature. Pojman attempts to prove the Dependency Thesis wrong with the specific example of Orientals and Occidentals, and how they both apply the principle of respect, but in different ways. Pojman also analyzes Relativism, Subjectivism, and Conventionalism in order to further his argument. He introduces a tribe from Sudan which throws deformed infants into the river, and from our own culture, the issue of abortion. Ultimately, Pojman’s answer to “Who’s to judge what’s right or wrong” is: We are.

1. Is relativism always incorrect? Can truth actually be with the crowd, and not the individual?
2. Can anything be justified simply by forming a small subculture that approved of it?
3. Is ethnocentricism in the west based on religious views at all?

Answer to 2: Not everything can be justified with the formation of a small subculture. An example is the Taliban. While the Taliban certainly adheres to it’s own principles, only radical Muslims would approve of its actions. After September 11th 2001, almost the entire world condemned the terrorist attacks against the United States. Even though the small subculture approved of it, the majority of people do not approve of terrorism. Does this mean that justification can only be possible with the consent of the majority? This seems to be the case in a democracy such as America, where power exists in the consent of the majority governed. Thus when a first-degree murder occurs, there cannot be any excuse such as belonging to a group that condones murder. The whole concept of justifying leads to justice, and justice (in America) in the case of a first-degree murder would be a lifetime sentence in prison. Taking the stance that anything can be justified by simply forming a small subculture is Conventional Relativism. Like Pojman says, “Conventionalist Relativism seems to reduce to Subjectivism. And Subjectivism leads, as we have seen, to the demise of morality altogether” (Vice and Virtue 187).

John Stuart Mill attempts to show what Utilitarianism really is. To demonstrate, he invokes the “Greatest Happiness Principle”, which holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, and wrong as they tend to produce the opposite of happiness. John Stuart Mill goes on to say that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and valuable than others, and that few human creatures would consent to be changed into a lower animal. While a being with higher faculties requires more to make him happy, he would still not want to sink into an inferior level of existence. To disprove assailants of utilitarianism, Mills points out that the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent’s own happiness, but that of all concerned, a sense of impartiality. Ultimately, Mill proposes the golden rule of utilitarian morality: To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

1. Does John Stuart Mill really answer the question of what can determine which pleasures are more valuable than others?
2. Do all human beings really possess dignity?
3. Sure Utilitarianism seems very nice when individuals are being benefited by the nobleness of others, but is it really feasible, or is Mills being quixotic?

Answer to 1: John Stuart Mill does say that some kinds of pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others, but he does not really answer the question of how to determine what gives more pleasure. When asked what makes something more pleasurable than another, Mill says that whichever of the two pleasures gives more of a decided preference to people who have tried both, is the more desirable pleasure. Unfortunately, Mill does not give an answer that shows every possible circumstance. The example of Coke versus Pepsi is just one example that shows a circumstance outside Mill’s answer. While some people think Coke is better than Pepsi, others believe just the opposite. Mill’s answer does not explain which of the two commodities gives more pleasure or satisfaction. Mill does however give another explanation: involving the majority of those who are qualified by knowledge as being the final arbiters of what gives more pleasure. Even this secondary explanation doesn’t give a clear-cut answer. However, Mill says that to answer the original question, “there is but one possible answer” (Vice and Virtue page 95). Yet Mill gives two answers just within his work “Utilitarianism”. How can there be two answers when a question has “but one possible answer”? Also, how can it be possible for Mill to give an answer that explains everything, yet at the same time leave out possible situations? Therefore, John Stuart Mill fails to completely answer the question of how to determine which pleasures are more valuable than others.

Samuel Johnson examines the concept of self-deception.  Johnson first argues one cannot be virtuous by simply doing one virtuous act and then acting with greed and meanness for all the remainder of one’s life. Johnson uses an example of a miser who once freed his friend from prison, but who is greedy throughout the rest of his life. Next, Johnson writes that it is often much easier to talk about virtue, than to actually do a virtuous action. Johnson uses the word “tribe” to describe a great number of men who do not follow virtue from religion, but rather by the measure of other men’s virtue. These are the same people who do deceive themselves by using other people as scapegoats, by saying that there are people who are even worse than they are. Johnson says that friends are not the best people to consult if we truly want to learn about ourselves, because they do not want to offend us, and will thus deceive us just as we deceive ourselves. Instead, we can find out about ourselves through our enemies. Johnson also proposes abstracting ourselves from the world (setting the world at a distance from us) so that we can survey ourselves. This is exactly what Valdesso did, when he decided to retire in order to reflect soberly upon his life.

The issue that I address in this paper is whether I would walk away from the Omelas utopia, and more importantly why I would or would not. The way that Ursula K. Le Guin presents Omelas, would not only make one think of a utopia, but would also make one think of a utilitarian society. In this society, the ends, or the outcome of happiness of the majority all stems from the torture and captivity of a single child. The Utilitarian belief justifies this situation because it says that the ends justify the means. I would walk away from Omelas because the ends do not always justify the means.
In his work Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill attempts to show what Utilitarianism really is. From the very start, Mill invokes the “Greatest Happiness Principle”, which holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, and wrong as they tend to produce the opposite of happiness. In other words, the Greatest Happiness Principle means that something is right if it promotes the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. In the same manner, the Greatest Happiness Principle is an integral part of Omelas, since the happiness of the majority depends on the oppression of a single child (minority). Thus, Omelas can be seen for what it really is: a utilitarian society. If Omelas is a utilitarian society, then the Greatest Happiness Principle must apply. The Greatest Happiness Principle in the case of Omelas, is simply the ends justifying the means. In his critique of utilitarianism, Bernard Williams shows how utilitarianism can make people act in a way that violates their intrinsic moral feelings. To prove his point, Williams gives an example of a tourist forced to make the choice between killing one person (and letting 19 live), and doing nothing at all, while the latter choice would result in soldier killing 20 people. While Mill and utilitarianism would both say to kill the one person (in order to save the other 19), choosing this option would make “integrity as a value more or less unintelligible” (Vice and Virtue page 100). What about the consequences after killing this one person? What if the other 19 people aren’t so innocent as previously surmised? What if they will turn out to be terrorists or criminals? Even if the other 19 don’t turn out to be immoral people, what about the tourist who had to kill this one person? The tourist has to deal with a guilty conscience of having killed 1 person, whereas if he chose the nothing option, only the soldier would have to deal with the heavy conscience of having killed 20 people. In much the same fashion, I would be unable to deal with the heavy conscience of knowing that my happiness comes from the torture of an innocent child.
Mill also proposes the golden rule of utilitarian morality: “To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself” (Vice and Virtue page 97). Mill even says that this is the golden rule of Jesus. Can it be said that ALL of the inhabitants of the supposedly Utilitarian society Omelas actually follow Mill’s golden rule ALL the time? No it cannot be said, because the inhabitants of Omelas are not treating the tortured child like they would treat themselves. Clearly the people of Omelas, or any rational person for that matter, would not treat the child the child the same way if they were that child, or even if that child was a person they felt affection for, such as a friend or a family member. Thomas Nagel makes a similar argument in his essay: The Objective Basis of Morality. Nagel asks “How would you like it if someone did that to you” (Vice and Virtue 192). A similarity exists between Nagel’s question, and the contra positive of the golden rule: that which is harmful to you, do not do to others. The child that is tortured in Omelas can be anyone’s child; it can be your child, your best friend, your brother, or even YOU. If this child were someone whom you care for, you would most likely leave Omelas, or even attempt to free the child from captivity.
The situation posed in Omelas is very similar to issue of slavery in the American South. Of course America wasn’t a utilitarian society, but the principle of the ends justifying the means is the same as that in Omelas. In the American South, the majority of slaves worked on cotton plantations. Slavery in the American South was all decided based on the color of skin. While some slaves had relatively nice working and living conditions, the majority did not. Slaves were often given a paucity of food, unlike their white masters (who had good food, and lots of it). Moreover, slaves did not live in nice houses like their masters; slaves usually lived in rudimentary habitats where they were constant victims of bad weather and sickness. Basically, slaves as a whole represent the innocent child who is endlessly trapped in the cellar basement. The people of Omelas are analogous to the white slave owners who made money from the toils and labor of the slaves. However, while the people of Omelas can be happy because of the child’s suffering, the white slave owners become wealthier due to the slaves suffering in labor. An important question comes up when a comparison is made between suffering and happiness. How can you measure either suffering or happiness, let alone determine which one is greater (or in this case, the lesser evil)? If you can’t measure happiness or suffering, then you cannot measure either the ends or the means in either the American South or in Omelas. If you cannot measure the means or ends, then it is not certain that the ends justify the means. Moreover, is it even moral to try to measure pleasure and pain? These questions are main criticisms of Consequentialism (Utilitarianism). An argument might be made for using utils (measure of utility) to measure everything, but it is weak, because how can numbers be assigned to pain or suffering? In any case, slavery and the utilitarianism in Omelas result in minority rights being taken away for the betterment of the majority. While Utilitarian philosophy would condone a violation of human rights, intuitively, it is morally and ethically wrong.
Someone might say that the ends do in fact always justify the means, but they are not thinking of the always-possible extreme cases. Perhaps just a coincidence, but the story of Omelas is an extreme case, which is why most modern Americans see it as an impossible utopia. Someone might try to refute my argument by pointing out that walking away from Omelas doesn’t change anything, because the child is still suffering. I agree that the immediate effect of walking away is minimal, but the long-term effect is extraordinary. Imagine if one by one, the entire population of Omelas walks away from Omelas. When no one but the child is left in Omelas, even the Greatest Happiness Principle would allow the child to be free from captivity.
However, even if everyone in Omelas doesn’t decide to leave, my walking away would not be pointless. I would go back to America, and make sure to notify the proper human rights organization such as Amnesty International. I am sure that Amnesty International would not condone human rights violations of any sort, regardless of whether the ends justify the means. Ultimately, I would walk away from Omelas following Kants categorical imperative: “So act as to treat humanity… as an end withal, never as means only” (Vice and Virtue page 137).

John Arthur argues that people do not need religion in order to make the “right” choice, or in other words, to make a moral decision. He argues how the atheist and the theist have common ground about moral rules, despite the latter not being religious, and outright disbelieving in God. Moreover Arthur attempts to show that religion only creates confusion in moral decisions, yet fails to provide any sound evidence.

 

1.How does Religion get in the way of making the right choice?
2. Why even consider what God “can” do (humans conjuring up something impossible for God), if he does “what he pleases”?
3. How does religion not need morality, if it is actually based on morals, and the teaching of morals?

Harry Browne argues against the Unselfishness Trap – the belief of putting the happiness of others ahead of your own. Furthermore, Browne asserts that unselfishness is not a sound ideal. All people try to do what would make them the happiest. The only thing not constant is the means that people use to gain their happiness. Next Browne criticizes the belief that the world would be a better place if everyone were unselfish. Browne invokes the red ball analogy; if all the people in the world were unselfish, then no one would be able to able to get any satisfaction from the red ball. Browne calls this “better world” a merry-go-round that has no ultimate purpose. Next, Browne shows how we often put aside our own plans and desires in order to avoid the condemnation of others. This societal pressure causes us to exist in the Unselfishness Trap and make negative choices that are designed to avoid being called selfish. We should be weary whenever we hear someone say “the key to happiness is giving”. This may be the key to happiness for the speaker, but it is only on a personal basis. To prove this point, Browne uses a cake example, in which his landlady baked him a cake as a favor (one that was not in accordance with his tastes). Thus, indiscriminate gift-giving and favor-doing is a waste of resources. Being selfish is more beneficial to your own happiness, because you know yourself better than you know anyone else. Browne contends that the best alternative solution is the find mutually beneficial companions. In this manner, the sacrifice between the two parties is at a minimum. Browne concludes by saying that we should not feel guilty for seeking our own happiness, because everyone does that.

Hobbes begins by arguing that every man wants what is good for him. At the basest of this good, man seeks to protect his life. Furthermore, Hobbes asserts that every man must be allowed the right to do everything necessary to survive. Every man must by the right of nature be his own judge. When nature gives everyone a right to all, everyone does what he wants. Hobbes contends that there is little benefit when men have a common right to all things. This state is called the natural state, which occurs before man entered into society and government. In the natural state, men are fighting a war against all other men. Even victory cannot end such a war, for it is perpetual. No matter how strong a victor is, he will eventually die after old age. Hobbes uses America as an example of a young nation, compared to all the old nations of Europe. These old nations were at one point just like America was at the time of Hobbes. “Fellows” can be acquired through constraint or consent. The absolute or omnipotent power will always dominate and rule over those who are weak. 

 

  1. What is the “state of nature,” and why is it unstable?

The state of nature refers to the natural state of men. In this state of nature, men are free to do what they want, and against whom they see fit. Hobbes argues that the natural state of men is not simply war, but war of all men against all men. One might think that war ends eventually with a victor, but Hobbes argues just the opposite. The natural state of man is a perpetual war, with no perpetual victor. The instability is secured by the perpetual fighting that stems from fear of others.

 

5.         It is amazing that Hobbes wrote in 1651 with no knowledge of Darwin. If Hobbes had been able read Darwin, he would have even more proof for his law of nature theory. He could incorporate Darwinism into his argument of the strongest supreme power being able to dominate the weak. The survival of the fittest clearly points in this direction. In the natural state of man, the perpetual war would kill off the weak, but in such a manner that would give little benefit to man. Moreover, the theory of evolution would support Hobbes’ idea that a government or society is the ultimate step in evolution, because the state of nature is not very efficient.

 

Barbara MacKinnon gives a basic history of cloning, starting with the famous Monk Mendel and his peas. She asserts that as of 2002, no humans have been cloned, despite the efforts of the Raelians to spread their hoax. Next she establishes the difference between therapeutic and reproductive human cloning. Even though most of the anti-cloning arguments stem from hype and fear of cloning, MacKinnon gives many arguments against cloning, including their respective counter-arguments. Can humans really “play God”? Would cloning take away individuality? Would cloning destroy the idea of a family? The gut reaction is the final argument against cloning. Next MacKinnon discusses DNA, and particularly how genes can be used to locate diseases like cancer and asthma. MacKinnon then presents both sides of the genetically modified plants and animals argument. Lastly she digresses into talking about the effects of genetic screening and the importance of privacy.
1. How will therapeutic cloning compliment reproductive cloning?
2. Is cloning inhumane, since it goes against human nature?
3. Do clones have a sort of free will, or a future which they will make themselves, or is their future already predefined?
Answer to #3: The free will that clones will have might be severely limited depending on expectations, or even the reasons why the clone was created in the first place. If say several thousand clones were made of a leading scientist, just for the purpose of furthering science, it is clear that these clones will not have free will. If the clones are allowed to live as “normal people”, without any expectations or conditions, then perhaps they might have free will, and escape the expectations that society creates for them. The conditioning described in Brave New World clearly shows the distinction between fate and free will. Epsilons are meant to be Epsilons, and Alphas are meant to be Alphas. Neither can the Epsilons become Alphas, nor can the Alphas become Epsilons. This society may be stable, but is one to be sought after? This sort of society can have no free will, because it is conditioned to not have one. Everything is pre-ordained, and individuality itself is suppressed.

 

Jeremy Rifkin argues the liberal view that opposes cloning. Essentially, Rifkin uses three main arguments in his article: 1. The women egg market would not live up to ethical standards. 2. The intellectual property rights of cloning would be tantamount to slavery. 3. Human life would be reduced to being a tool for science. The most important concept that Rifkin brings up is the slippery slope. This idea is integral to the ethical perspective of cloning, as a line must be drawn when embryos can be used. This of course begs for regulation (government?).

 

 

          

2006 Philosophy Paradise