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!"
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.
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.
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
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
DrC: Some of them are worthwhile in
themselves (the various virtues, for example)
and some are only instrumentally valuable,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.)
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*
Oh, get over yourself, Friedrich.