Mar8

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Lecture notes for PHIL 250

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  • Mar8

    1. 1. pmail: the Golden rule revisited student: It seems to me that Singer is ignoring the Golden Rule when he says "There is no rule that says a potential X has the same value as an X, or has all of the rights of an X" (153t11).  As a self-concious individual, would one not agree that they are glad that they were never aborted?  Why is it that once someone becomes a "person" that they are able to deny a potential X the right to life that we are so happy we got?   To me, this is more along the lines of "doing unto others as we are SURE glad we did not have done unto us!"
    2. 2. pmail: higher pleasures Student: In terms of faculties, I would rather possess the ability to taste my food than possess the ability to understand complex algebra.  Does this mean the sense of taste is a higher pleasure, even though it is common to everyone? DrC: I think Mill means something like, “Other things being equal, ....” The competent judge would prefer the ability to understand complex algebra, whereas the fool would prefer to taste food.
    3. 3. pmail: killing and letting die Student: With a pure preference utilitarian formula for ameliorating the world, all factors including symbolic utility are taken into account for maximizing the sum. DrC: Ok, but this is more like DV than Singer’s view, which doesn’t take into account the symbolic utility of not killing as opposed to letting die, for example. His preference utilitarianism is blind to the SU of acts, focusing rather on outcomes.
    4. 4. pmail: involuntary euthanaisa DrC: Involuntary Euthanasia, to me, sounds dangerously close to murder. Now, we can generally agree that murder is bad. Even if we were to know that a person's life was going to be very unpleasant, it still does not give us the right to interfere with their autonomy. The person has the right to make their own choices, especially when it concerns their rights to life, and no person should presume to take that away. DrC: Daniel Pearl’s murder might be a case in point. He would not have accepted a lethal pain killer before his murder (he was offered a pain killer). Involuntary euthanasia in his case -- administering the pain killer just before he was to be beheaded -- would have interfered with (the symbolic utility of) his dying with dignity.
    5. 5. pmail: Aristotle’s happiness Student: In regards to the Aristotelean view of happiness, I was just wondering whether he would view the elements which eventually lead to happiness as worthwhile in themselves. DrC: Some of them are worthwhile in themselves (the various virtues, for example) and some are only instrumentally valuable, like medicine.
    6. 6. pmail: self-definition Student: The self-defining self seems interesting to me as it is much less ridgid than a strictly encumbered or unencumbered self. For example when you mention bodily entification in terms of pathology, such as hemispatial neglect in some neurologically damaged individuals. They can (though perhaps not through choice) be a self while denying the existence of parts of their bodies as part of themselves. This view seems to acknowledge that we can all have a self, but take into account the great variation both at-a- time and through time. You also seem to suggest that this self could be encumbered or unencumbered depending on which view you take. It appears to create a compromise between the theories of encumbered/non-encumbered self without sacrificing its own value as a distinctive theory. DrC: If the self is self-defining, it is essentially encumbered. However, it *can* define itself so that its contours are like those of an unencumbered self: for example, cradle-to-grave contours, or immortality contours. In this case there is no unencumbered self, just an encumbered self that presents itself as unencumbered.
    7. 7. Aristotle’s happiness Student: Aristotle, in The Nature of Virtue (chapter 14 of Cahn), writes of happiness as something "we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else" (113), which sounds an awful lot like Mill's argument that "happiness is desirable and the only thing desirable as an end". However, whereas happiness plays a basic role in Mill's utilitarianism, it doesn't come up again in Aristotle. Instead Aristotle focuses on character development and excess and defect. Is happiness at the heart of the virtues that Aristotle is proposing? Or was he reference to happiness at the beginning of his essay irrelevant to his bigger argument? DrC: Aristotle’s argument goes in two directions. One vindicates a life of philosophizing, because that is the only thing worth doing for its own sake. The other vindicates the life of a citizen who has the virtues necessary to do his part in a flourishing city, and those virtues are defined by reference to the mean between excess and defect. The latter direction is what’s important for his contribution to virtue ethics.
    8. 8. pmail: killing an innocent human being Student: Singer discusses the ethical argument: It is wrong to kill an innocent human being; a human fetus is an innocent human being; therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus. But clearly this argument is deontological, using Singers act Utilitarianism, it isn't wrong to kill an innocent human being, it's only wrong to decrease utility. Why does Singer take this argument seriously since it uses a different (and vague) system of ethics? The argument can't cause any problems for his theory, since he can reject the first premise. DrC: I think you’re right. It’s just that Singer wants to show that an ambiguity about the concept of a human being (as person versus as biological) corrupts the force of this argument. He’s making a foray into enemy territory, so to speak, though he could do as you say and state that killing an innocent human being is always justified if the consequences of doing so are better than those of letting him live.
    9. 9. pmail: Student: Does a nonreductionist position inevitably mean acceptance of the potentiality argument in matters of abortion? I guess, in other words, when does the continuity of the self begin from a nonreductionist point of view? It seems like if a nonreductionist is to affirm that "I am the infant I once was" he/she must give way to "I am the fetus, the embryo, and the zygote I once was." If not, when does the "I" emerge? DrC: There are various versions of the nonreductionist self, and correspondingly different answers to your question about emergence. A religious conception of the soul might point toward conception, whereas a functioning brain would point toward some stage in the development of the fetus.
    10. 10. pmail: potentiality Student: Does the idea of "potentiality" require a soul, or some sort of objective substance? That is, can one really make a "potentiality" argument without referencing a soul, whether they think they are or not?  DrC: Referencing a soul is one way of making a potentiality argument. Another one is to make reference to the normal course of events, presumably in such a way as to distinguish a fetus from an unfertilized egg or a lonely spermatozoon.
    11. 11. pmail: the Lockean self Student: Concerning reductionism vs. non-reductionism, I guess that I am confused as to how this relates to the Lockean self, or whether one or the other is supposed to be related. It seems to me that the Lockean self just establishes consciousness, whereas reductionism and non-reductionism are opposing points of view about outside influence in establishing the self. DrC: There are two ways to think of the Lockean self. One is that it’s no self at all (tantamount to Buddhist no-self doctrine). This is the Lockean self as a model of Reductionism. The other is that one might *define* oneself in this way: “I am such-and-such pattern of psychological continuities.” This is not Reductionism, but rather a middle position between Reductionism and non-Reductionism.
    12. 12. pmail: newborns Student: Singer stipulates that there is no morally defensible position that can be taken when deciding if there is a difference in the killing of a fetus vs killing a newborn child, the arbitrary line drawn by birth is fundamentally irrelevant. I believe he also says that after birth there is a time period when it would be completely ok to allow that newborn baby to die. To me this is an awful thought, it almost advocates that parents can plan to have a baby, then when it is born, take it for a "test drive", decide if it is worthy, if it isnt, they can let it die and try again...perhaps i have missed some fundamental caveat to this argument that would make this more accessible, but as it stands, i find it so dehumanizing. I think you’re right about his fundamental view of newborns, though in the 2nd edition he introduces the critical/intuitive distinction to sweeten it somewhat. I share your concern. That’s why I’m presenting DV as an alternative, a middle way between pure deontology and pure consequentialism.
    13. 13. Singer 8: Rich and Poor Singer: McNamara has summed up absolute poverty as `a condition of life so characterised by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human decency.’ DrC: Absolute poverty is a tragic fact, and those in `absolute aflluence’ have an obligation to take significant measures against it, but it does not follow that the differences between killing poor people and letting them die is “of no intrinsic ethical significance” (218).
    14. 14. Singer 8: Singer: They are extrinsic differences, that is, differences normally but not necessarily associated with the distinction between killing and allowing to die. We can imagine cases.... (224) DrC: The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic should be drawn not relative to “what we can imagine” but relative rather to “the contours of the self”: the fact that I would have to abandon my family and my projects is not “extrinsic” to whether I should do so in order to address absolute poverty. Abandoning them would be self-mutilation, perhaps tantamount to death, and as such they are intrinsically exculpatory of being a murderer.
    15. 15. Ch 15 Cahn: Mayo Mayo: Now, according to the philosophy of moral character, there is another way of answering the fundamental question “What ought I to do?” Instead of quoting a rule, we quote a quality of character, a virtue....Here, too, we have the extreme cases, where a man’s moral perplexity extends not merely to a particular situation but to his whole way of living. DrC: The extreme cases are not merely imaginable. They are cases that actually crop up and cause perplexity about one’s whole way of living. (See the web-site notes for this week, specifically the imagined restaurant scenario.)
    16. 16. Cahn 16: Nietzche Nietzsche: The noble type of person feels *himself* as determining value -- he does not need approval, he judges that ‘what is harmful to me is harmful per se,’ he knows that he is the one who causes things to be revered in the first place, he *creates* values. Oh, get over yourself, Friedrich.

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