pmail: Stevenson
I am having a little trouble with [Stevenson’s]
argument about the use of scientific
methods to resolve di...
pmail: born-again people
...about the reductionist view on criminals,
convicted of crimes that were undertaken
many years ...
pmail: SU and “kantianism”

...why does DV Utilitarianism use kantianism?  
Or maybe how was kantianism derived from
Kanti...
pmail: persons & language

 In regards to Singer's Ch. 5, I am wondering why language is
 deemed as a prerequisite to be g...
pmail: self & preference
 Student: Reducing morality to preferences,
 Singer seems to have a view of people that
 seems to...
pmail: replaceability
"...only a being who is capable of conceiving herself as a distinct
entity existing over time - that...
deontology and universalization
Student: Consider this scenario regarding an off duty paramedic. This paramedic has
promis...
Singer: non-religious ethics
  Singer: In contrast to the common opinion that the moral question
  about abortion is a dil...
Singer: Thomson’s violinist
 Singer: The utilitarian would hold that,
 however outraged I may be at having been
 kidnapped...
Singer’s mountain climber
Singer: Opponents of abortion would
presumably think an abortion in these
circumstances particul...
Singer: babies
Singer: If the fetus does not have the same
claim to life as a person, it appears that the
newborn baby doe...
Singer: potential
Singer: Traditional defenders of the right to
life of the embryo have been reluctant to
introduce degree...
O’Neill
O’Neill: The maxim of the act is the principle
on which one sees oneself as acting.

One of the ways of defending ...
Mill: higher pleasures

Mill: Of two pleasures, if there be one to
which all or almost all who have experienced
both give ...
Marquis: a future-like-ours



Marquis: The claim that the primary wrong-
making feature of a killing is the loss to the
v...
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Feb22 -- Singer, et al

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These are notes for class discussion in the week of February 22.

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  • Feb22 -- Singer, et al

    1. 1. pmail: Stevenson I am having a little trouble with [Stevenson’s] argument about the use of scientific methods to resolve disagreements in belief. He seems to explain everything except how these "scientific methods" may be used to resolve said ethical disagreements. Is he suggesting that an objective ethical truth exists that can be measured and tested? How does one accurately quantify the value of a life or for that matter the "rightness or wrongness" of an action? For me science is objective and involves testable phenomena; however, ethics seems to me intangible.
    2. 2. pmail: born-again people ...about the reductionist view on criminals, convicted of crimes that were undertaken many years ago. I'm wondering how it can really be determined whether a person is the same person today as he or she was 20 years ago, without putting that person into the same situation. Would it not be useful to investigate whether a person would make the same decisions and act the same way today as he or she did 20 years ago? If a person would make the same decision, then it seems as though he or she IS still the same person. Whereas, if the person has changed his or her point of view over time, does that not imply a changed person?
    3. 3. pmail: SU and “kantianism” ...why does DV Utilitarianism use kantianism?   Or maybe how was kantianism derived from Kantianism? DV utilitarianism's symbolic utility seems to just be derived from the meaning of acts in a cultural environment, but Kant seems to have a very defined approach with the categorical imperative.  Nothing seems to suggest that he would accept any lighter version of his ethical theory.  Why is symbolic utility not merely deontological, but kantian?
    4. 4. pmail: persons & language In regards to Singer's Ch. 5, I am wondering why language is deemed as a prerequisite to be granted person-hood in the first place?  Just because humans use language to communicate, does not mean that animals must do the same in order to prove themselves conscious beings.  Because of the physiological anatomy and vocal tract of various animals, 'language' production is not always physically possible.  However, bird calling's and songs are forms of communication between birds that one could argue makes them communicative beings, they just don't have a specific 'language' defined the same as human's language... what places human's communication above communication abilities of non- humans?
    5. 5. pmail: self & preference Student: Reducing morality to preferences, Singer seems to have a view of people that seems to define individuals strictly in terms of the preferences that they have. A question for my identity as a person arises in Singer's framework: I may be conscious of myself as a 'self', but to Singer my preferences are what make me a 'self' or 'individual'.  Let's say my preferences were transferred to my clone, then my moral worth would also be transferred to my clone. If this is true, then it seems to me that Singer seems to make a big statement
    6. 6. pmail: replaceability "...only a being who is capable of conceiving herself as a distinct entity existing over time - that is, only a person - could have this desire.  Therefore only a person could have a right to life" (97T4) (as put by Singer) Student: I don't see how someone can be denied a right to life at one point in their life but be granted this right at another point.   For instance, infants may not have the ability to see themselves as a "distinct entity existing over time" but they most certainly, in most cases, will develop this ability with time.  I don't see it as fair for an infant to be denied a right to life (according to Tooley's position) simply because it has not yet had the opportunity to develop the ability to see itself as existing over time. DrC: If you could articulate your idea of development, that would create a big problem for Singer.
    7. 7. deontology and universalization Student: Consider this scenario regarding an off duty paramedic. This paramedic has promised his wife and family that he would be home in time for a Thanksgiving dinner. On the way home, while driving down an isolated backroad, the off duty paramedic runs into the scene of a car crash. A car is flipped over in a ditch by this isolated road and the driver inside the car is trapped and will die if he does not receive immediate medical attention. Deontology states that this paramedic has no moral obligation to help the trapped driver. Instead, the paramedic has a moral obligation to continue driving down the road so he can get home in time for dinner and uphold the promise he made to his wife earlier. Breaking this promise would violate his wife's autonomy. On the other hand, utilitarianism would deem that the paramedic has a moral obligation to save the driver's life because the consequences of allowing the driver to die are much more serious than the consequences of breaking a promise. It seems that the universal maxims which define Deontology may not be universal after all. How would a Deontologist defend their doctrine in regards to this particular situation? DrC: One way to deal with this problem is to construe the maxim as highly qualified or conditional. (It can still be something one would be willing to universalize.) Another way is to construe duties as “prima facie duties” and to assign more or less “weight” to them vis- a-vis each other. This latter may be the way to go, if one can give a satisfactory account of weight. Decision theorists study the weight to be assigned to a preference by reference to a lottery in which one “buys tickets” to get this or that preference satisfied. Maybe their work could be extended to prima facie duties, especially if these duties are understood by reference to symbolic utility. A prima facie duty to do X is a shared understanding in a culture that X must be performed in circumstances C. Then this duty is internalized by individuals. They assign more or less weight to their preference that X should be done.
    8. 8. Singer: non-religious ethics Singer: In contrast to the common opinion that the moral question about abortion is a dilemma with no solution, I shall show that, at least within the bounds of non-religious ethics, there is a clear-cut answer and those who take a different view are simply mistaken. DrC: This remark suggests that Singer isn’t seriously engaging the opponents of abortion, whose opposition is predominantly derived from religious beliefs. DrC: Note that DV gives weight to those religious beliefs in determining the decision value of aborting a fetus, and in evaluating a law on doing so. One would expect this weight to have significant influence on the laws of societies in which religious belief is deep and widespread. And this influence would be morally right, other things being equal. (Other things might not be equal: the society might be committed to personal autonomy, which would militate against laws prohibiting abortion. Or the bad consequences of laws proscribing abortion might outweigh the symbolic utility of a pro- life law.
    9. 9. Singer: Thomson’s violinist Singer: The utilitarian would hold that, however outraged I may be at having been kidnapped, if the consequences of disconnecting myself from the violinist are, on balance, and taking into account the interests of everyone affected, worse than the consequences of remaining connected, I ought to remain connected. (148B14ff) Note that for Singer one must choose between his consequentialism or a theory that justifies independently of an action’s consequences. (148B17f)
    10. 10. Singer’s mountain climber Singer: Opponents of abortion would presumably think an abortion in these circumstances particularly outrageous, for neither the life nor the health of the mother is at stake -- only the enjoyment she gets from climbing mountains. Yet if abortion is wrong only because it deprives the world of a future person, this abortion is not wrong: it does no more than delay the entry of a person into the world. (154B) DrC: Note that this case doesn’t address Marquis’s criterion, which doesn’t allow replaceability.
    11. 11. Singer: babies Singer: If the fetus does not have the same claim to life as a person, it appears that the newborn baby does not either, and the life of a newborn baby is of less value to it than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee is to the nonhuman animal. (169) DrC: For Singer, the fetus has moral standing when it is capable of experiencing pain (14 weeks?). The adult chimpanzee is a person and so has a higher grade of moral standing. Note though that Marquis’s criterion gives a different result.
    12. 12. Singer: potential Singer: Traditional defenders of the right to life of the embryo have been reluctant to introduce degrees of potential into the debate, because once the notion is accepted, it seems undeniable that the early embryo is less of a potential person than the later embryo or the fetus. (160B) DrC: Let potential be a matter of degree, the precise degree being determined by the symbolic disutility of killing it.
    13. 13. O’Neill O’Neill: The maxim of the act is the principle on which one sees oneself as acting. One of the ways of defending deontology is to qualify and conditionalize the principle in question. The trouble with this strategy, at least in O’Neill’s account of it, is that we typically don’t “see ourselves as acting” according to complicated principles. Briefly, we have simple minds.
    14. 14. Mill: higher pleasures Mill: Of two pleasures, if there be one to which all or almost all who have experienced both give a decided preference, irrespective of any feeling of moral obligation to prefer it, that is the more desirable pleasure. DrC: What should be said about the divide to be expected between Muslim and Christian readers of the Koran and the Bible?
    15. 15. Marquis: a future-like-ours Marquis: The claim that the primary wrong- making feature of a killing is the loss to the victim of the value of its future accounts for the wrongness of killing young children and infants directly; it makes the wrongness of such acts as obvious as we think it is.

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