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Notes for the week of March 22.

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  • Mar22

    1. 1. potential and future generations I felt that Singer's chapter on the environment was quite unfounded. First of all, his theory has been based upon interests and the fact that humans, "persons" and animals have them, and now he seems to be trying to get around that limitation. Secondy, he claims that "such an ethic fosters consideration for the interests of all sentient creatures, including subsequent generations stretching into the far future", but he has established in previous chapters that the potential persons argument is problematic. I recognize that we are (almost) entirely certain that there will be future generations and therefore there will be sentient creatures in the future who will suffer because of our decisions, but they are still "potential" people. Why Singer is allowing the potential people argument to count now when he wouldn't allow it earlier? Singer really just seems determined to protect the environment (which is a great thing), but he doesn't seem to have legitimate grounds under his theory to defend it.
    2. 2. Wolf and Singer Student: My pmail is in response to Susan Wolf's "Moral Saints". I find her view on moral obligation very interesting, and I find myself agreeing with her view as a whole. But if she is correct, then many moral theories, including Singer's preference utilitarianism, are only fully applicable to those who she defines as moral saints, or those who are only fully fulfilled by dedicating their lives to improving the lives of others. This means that we would need new moral theories, or provisions that define the difference between a bad person and a good person. I consider myself a good person because I care about others and not hurting people's feelings, but I by no means feel morally obligated to dedicate my life and all my earnings to the third world. DrC: I am interested in the idea that common-sense morality can be viewed as a system of prima facie rights and duties in W.D. Ross’s sense. This would be a theory that corresponds more closely to your intuitions than does Singer’s. You have a prima facie duty to help the poor, but this duty must survive competition from other duties.
    3. 3. death and the self  Student: Today's conversation about the contrast between Thomas Nagel's view of death and the symbolic utility view of death got me thinking about lab animals.  Could one say that the symbolic utility view of death could justify the deaths of lab animals?  It seems to me that by being held in cages, without any freedoms would be analogous to being "trapped" in an old age body, in which ones expected utility or say ability to take long walks is prevented.  If the self of these animals has "shrunk"  then one could say that their death isn't so bad.  One may be able to argue against this idea for mice or pigs, but the examples of chimpanzee's and apes cognitive abilities seems to put them in this category to me.  Of course a chimpanzee wouldn't be in such a situation without human intervention so this complicates the situation from that of old age, but is this premise correct or am I misunderstanding this topic? DrC: I think you have it right. Of course, reversible shrinkage is different from the irreversible kind (old age). The `contours of the self’ view is meant to be a middle way between Nagel’s view and the classical stoic view.
    4. 4. philosophy and temperament I was just wondering whether a person is ever justified in selecting a moral theory based on personal preferences, rather than its philosophical merits (internal consistency, wide application, etc) ie. I like animals, therefore I would assume a view that doesn't discriminate against them. If one can be justified to subscribe to moral theories based on their individual preferences, I think it would make morality more personal, more like a way of life. Wouldn't it be more 'natural' if morality were like that? You might take a look at William James’s little book, Pragmatism, where he argues that every philosophy is an expression of personal temperament.
    5. 5. act & omission: intrinsic and extrinsic differences Student: Singer brings up an important question when it comes to rich and poor and how they interact. Why give? He reminds us that most often in regard to the distinction about killing and allowing to die, we lack an identifiable victim that can be traced back to the act of not helping the impoverished. Everyone can agree that we avoid killing others, but what about allowing to die. Since there is no identifiable victim created from our choice no to help, we have a clear conscience and it does not trouble us. But lets say if you had seen a poor person in your community for years scraping by and never took the time to help out, .... DrC: Another revealing thought-experiment is to imagine that *everyone* in the world who is in distress was in your community. When you think you’ve done enough for them and turn to your commitments to your family and yourself, is your omission “intrinsically” the same as murder? (This is how I’m reading Singer.)
    6. 6. Ch 10: what desires should we have? Student: So what Singer is saying in Chapter 10 [drc: page reference?] is that we can pursue abilities, "real" fulfilment and satisfaction to the extent that we are frugal?  We can pursue these things as long as we minimize pollution and re-use all that can be re-used? So he is saying that one cannot ethically justify purchasing a motorcycle to develop the ability to take a corner going 100 kilometers an hour? Is that not a real ability or, if it is achieved, real satisfaction that someone would obtain? DrC: It’s a real ability and the satisfaction is genuine, but they are expensively acquired, so they run into his argument in Ch 8 that (“intrinsically”) they are morally equivalent to murder. In Ch 10 he introduces certain satisfactions (video games, etc.) are less satisfying than others (nature walks, etc.), and the related idea that we should raise our children to have preferences for the latter.
    7. 7. Immigration and national identity Student: Ch 9 of Singer.  I am not really satisfied with Singer's argument; not because I disagree with him, but because he seems to have no value for national identity.   drc: One source of criticism of preference utilitarianism is that it has no place for what might be called `perfectionist values’ as a source of moral rights and duties, separate from utility. (Maintaining a national culture can be classified as one such value.)
    8. 8. pmail: Fairhaven Student: I think that most people, if they were voting in the Farihaven referendum, would be motivated to vote to allow as many "refugees" in as possible because they believe that human life has inherent value or that they deserve to live, and not because they are concerned about "interests". Singer backs up his claim by saying that intuitively most people would vote as "bleeding hearts". And this may be true, but they are most likely voting as "bleeding hearts" because of religious convictions, or the beliefs that human life has inherent value. Singer seems to be abusing intuition in this instance since he arrives at his point critically, and then relies on the (religious) beliefs of others for support in numbers. Also, Singer makes no reference to non-human animals in this chapter. Obviously, animals aren't named as refugees, but should he not be evaluating the interests of animals who want into Fairhaven as well?
    9. 9. Hobbes: capital punishment Student: I found Thomas Hobbes' Social Contract theory this week particularly interesting,and it let me to wonder how he might deal with an issues such as capital punishment. If a man murders someone (in a culture where law and government exists) then he is likely breaking his covenant, which would be breaching the social contract. If a man breeches the social contract is he considered to be at war with the others whom are abiding within covenant and thus be subject to the others "right to everything: [including his] body" and thus to death? Or alternatively, would the man's right of nature override this and make it permissible for him to flee capture and death? DrC: The Leviathan can impose whatever penalty s/he chooses -- whatever schedule of penalties he has put into law -- for the man's breech of the contract. If he chooses capital punishment, the person to be punished has the right of nature to flee. 
    10. 10. DV and EU Student: I'd be interested to hear more of your thoughts on justifying SU when it lies in stark contrast to the EU. Why is DV better than preference utilitarianism? DrC: I think the case for DV comes out best when the contrast with EU is slight rather than stark. After all, one is trying to show that SU has weight, not that it always dominates over EU. This comes out vividly in the DV approach to the long-standing problem of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Let’s discuss that.
    11. 11. poverty and ten percent Student: It was brought up in class that Singer suggestion of giving 10% of one's income to help the world's poor would not do too much.However, for Singer, this is a bare minimum.  Singer would actually agree with giving much more (about 30% or more, if possible); the reason he suggests 10% to the regular person is because he knows that at the first thought of giving 30% of one's income away, one would be turned off from that "strong" commitment, and as a result, would not even think of giving any.   With suggesting 10%, many would find this to be a reasonably easy about to give away, and so, more people would actually do it.   Singer, I think, sees more good being done, practically, with small amounts from a lot of people rather than large amounts from only a few. DrC: A ten-percent income-tax deduction for poverty relief, patterned after social insurance deductions, would be an excellent way to implement Singer’s proposal.
    12. 12. Singer: new generations Singer: “Can we be sure that future generations will appreciate wilderness? Perhaps they will be happier sitting in air- conditioned shopping malls, playing computer games more sophisticated than any we can imagine? That is possible. But there are several reasons why we should not give this possibility too much weight.” (271)
    13. 13. intrinsic worth “...the fact that all organisms are part of an interrelated whole does not suggest that they are all of *intrinsic* worth, let alone of equal intrinsic worth. They may be of worth only because they are needed for the existence of the whole, and the whole may be of worth only because it supports the existence of conscious beings.” (282)
    14. 14. Rawls: A theory of justice Rawls: “I shall maintain . . . that the persons in the initial situation would choose two . . . principles
    15. 15. Jean Grimshaw: the idea of a female ethic “It was above all Rousseau’s notion of virtue as `gendered’ that Mary Wolstonecraft attacked in her *Vindication of the rights of women*” (153) On the other hand, “in the very influential work of Mary Daly,” there are essentialist beliefs about male and female nature. (154)
    16. 16. Grimshaw: Gilligan “In her influential book *In a different voice: psychological theory and women’s development* (1982) Carol Gilligan argued that those who have suggested that women typically reason differently from men about moral issues are right; what is wrong is their assumption of the inferiority or deficiency of female moral reasoning.” (157)
    17. 17. Grimshaw: Noddings “Nel Noddings, for example, in her book *Caring: a feminine approach to ethics and moral education* (1984) argues that a morality based on rules or principles is in itself inadequate, and that it does not capture what is distinctive about female moral thinking.” (157)
    18. 18. Grimshaw: Ruddick “Sara Ruddick, for example, in an article entitled `Maternal Thinking’ (1980) argues that the task of mothering generates a conception of virtue which might provide a resource for a critique of those values and priorities which underpin much contemporary social life -- including those of militarism.” (158)
    19. 19. Grimshaw: Poole “But, as Ross Poole has argued, in `Morality, Masculinity and the Market’ (1985), utilitarianism was not really able to provide an adequate morality, mainly because it could never provide convincing reasons why individuals should submit to a duty or obligation that was not in their interests in the short term.” (160)