Morality and the good life
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Morality and the Good Life. Action and Consequences . Happy St. Patrick's Day!. Review . Virtue, Reason and the Passions: Benedict Spinoza, Ethics For Spinoza, a life of virtue is lived in accordance with our rational nature.

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Morality and the good life

Morality and the Good Life

Action and Consequences

Happy st patrick s day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!



  • Virtue, Reason and the Passions: Benedict Spinoza, Ethics

  • For Spinoza, a life of virtue is lived in accordance with our rational nature.

  • Virtue is the very striving for self-preservation, and man’s ability to preserve his existence.



  • We should seek virtue for its own sake, since there is nothing more important for us than achieving our upmost rational capacity.

  • When we neglect our rational virtues, we expose ourselves to danger of the passions and desires.

  • The passions are external causes, in making us feel and think a certain way – without our power of reason.



“This striving by which the mind, in so far as it reasons, endeavors to preserve its existence, is nothing else but understanding; and hence this striving to understand is the first and only foundation of virtue.” p. 497

“In so far as people are subject to the passions, they cannot be said to be in harmony in their nature.” p. 498



  • Passions act against human reason and understanding by depriving the mind of knowledge, something lasting and more consistent in nature.

  • Knowledge may not completely remove the emotions, in so far as they are passions, but at least it brings it about that they constitute the smallest part of the mind.



  • Human Feeling as the Source of Ethics: David Hume, Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals

  • Sentimentalism: We come to know moral truths through our emotions and feelings for others.

  • As Hume illustrates, we might suppose that there are no Reasons in the area of ethics – just the desires or wills of particular persons, not necessarily shared or respected by anyone else.



  • Hume took a dim view of the power of reason anywhere, especially in ethics.

  • For Hume, reason’s proper sphere is confined to mathematics and logic, while knowledge about the way things are is due solely to sense experience.

  • Human reason has a limited domain.



  • The heart, or what Hume called passion or sentiment, rules everything.

  • Our passions and sentiments need to operate in the world that we learn about: ignorance is a recipe for acting disastrously, both to ourselves and to others.

  • Unambitious concerns, such as solidarity with others or the respect for rules that all depend on sympathy.



  • Sympathy is not mandated by reason alone.

  • The plight of others gives us reasons to act, certainly, but not Reasons.

  • ‘Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them’

  • For Hume, the edifice of justice and rights is a social creation.



  • Non-cognitivism: Moral judgments are not beliefs, don’t state facts and thus are not truth-evaluable. They serve as expressive vehicles.



  • Duty and Reason as the Ultimate Principle: Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.

  • Kant distinguishes between two kinds of ‘oughts’ or ‘shoulds’ – a moral ought, which he calls a categorical imperative, and a merely practical ought, which he calls a hypothetical imperative.



  • Categorical Imperative: “The name given by Immanuel Kant to a purported universal moral law: in one form, “So act that the maxim of your action could be willed as a universal law”; in another form, “So act as to treat humanity … always as an end, and never as merely a means.”



  • First Categorical Imperative: “I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.”

  • Second Categorical Imperative: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”



  • Duty-Oriented Morality: Immanuel Kant

  • The empirical consequences or results of an act had nothing whatsoever to do with the moral worth of the act.

  • Any attempt to justify an act by appealing to its consequences immediately removes the act from the ethical sphere.



  • IF you don’t want X, (hypothesis)

  • THEN you ought to Y. (condition)

  • According to Kant, a truly moral ought cannot be conditional upon any individual’s desires.

  • It must be absolute – that is, universal and exceptionless – or as he calls it, “categorical”.



  • The principle behind the categorical imperative is a principle that every rational agent must accept.

  • Refusing to do so would be tantamount to abandoning one’s rationality, leading to “the obliteration of one’s dignity as a human being.”



  • Can I conceive of a logically consistent world in which nobody helps out others in distress?

  • Can I conceive of a materially consistent world in which nobody helps out others in distress (that is, for psychophysical reasons, they couldn’t help each other even if they wanted to)?

  • Kant would say that the latter is inconsistent.



  • Deontology: Strictly, the study of duty, but in practice a particular view that duty is the primary moral notion, and that at least some of our duties (for example, keeping promises) do not depend on any value that may result from fulfilling them.



  • Cognitivism: Moral judgments are beliefs capable of being true or false in virtue of their more or less accurate representation of the facts.



  • Moral Realism: MR is a form of cognitivism. Moral beliefs, when true, are so “in virtue of correctly reporting moral facts”.

  • These facts are nonnatural facts, though they may be supervenient on natural facts.

  • Anti-Realism is the denial of MR.





  • “The moral and social philosophy if Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill according to which the value of an action or legislation can be derived from the principle of utility, which advocates “the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.”



  • Actions are right insofar as they tend to promote happiness.

  • It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.

  • No system of ethics requires that our sole motive shall be a feeling of duty.



  • The sole evidence that something is desirable is that people desire it.

  • Nothing is desired except as a means to happiness or as part of our happiness.

  • Justice implies something an individual can claim from us as his moral right.



  • Moral Realism: “The ethical view that there are moral facts that can be the basis of moral judgments. Therefore moral judgments need not be merely subjective, or merely expressions of preference, or merely projections from the human mind.”



  • Moral Realism: MR is a form of cognitivism. Moral beliefs, when true, are so “in virtue of correctly reporting moral facts”.

  • There facts are nonnatural facts, though they may be supervenient on natural facts.

  • Anti-Realism is the denial of MR.



  • Cognitivism: Moral judgments are beliefs capable of being true or false in virtue of their more or less accurate representation of the facts.



  • Moral facts supervene on natural facts (about what humans desire/need, what generates best consequences).

  • We know moral facts via our ordinary strategies for knowing.

  • “A is morally wrong” means “A doesn’t create the optimum consequences for all.”

  • Or “A does not conform to rule creating optimum consequences.”



  • The essential difference between traditional hedonism and utilitarianism is that the former was egoistic in nature, and the latter is social.

  • Bentham began his philosophy with the assumption that, like it or not, we humans are all governed by a desire for pleasure and an aversion to pain.

  • He believed we are endowed with reason and that therefore it is possible to give moral advice on how one should pursue the goal of the “pleasure principle”.



  • Bentham formulated his advice on what he called “the calculus of felicity” or the hedonic calculus.

  • This includes seven categories acting as a rational analysis of pleasure.



  • Intensity – how intense?

  • Duration – how long?

  • Certainty – how sure?

  • Propinquity – how soon?

  • Fecundity – how many more?

  • Purity – how free from pain?

  • Extent – how many people are affected?



  • According to Bentham, whenever you consider performing any action, you can analyze its value in terms of these categories and contrast it with its alternatives.

  • For example, say you need to study for tomorrow’s chemistry examination, but it turns out that today promises to be the most glorious day of the year.

John stuart mill 20 may 1806 8 may 1873

John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806 – 8 May 1873)

Happiness as the foundation of morality john stuart mill utilitarianism

Happiness as the Foundation of Morality: John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism

  • The Quality of Pleasure

  • Mill feared that an adherent of the calculus of felicity might conclude that watching football on TV is better than the arts and sciences, and Mill knew in his heart that such a conclusion is simply not true.

  • Utilitarianism would have to be rewritten.



  • Mill was convinced that quality in pleasure was even more important than quantity.

  • “The uncultivated cannot be competent judges of cultivation.”

  • With the consequentialist system, Mill also faces the problem of breaking important rules of conduct, such as promises or duties.



  • Mill replies that utilitarians will want to instill a sense of veracity in the population, since truth-telling is generally productive of happiness.

  • Will stick to rules or guidelines based on our experience of the kind of conduct that tend to maximize happiness.

  • “Rule Utilitarianims”

Henry sidgwick may 31 1838 august 28 1900

Henry Sidgwick (May 31, 1838–August 28, 1900)

Methods of ethics

Methods of Ethics

  • Examines the hypothesis of common-sense as a way of determining utilitarian guidelines.

  • However, tradition does not promise happiness nor does it maximize utility.

  • Utilitarians have the duty to make thoughtful revisions of these rules.

Methods of ethics1

Methods of Ethics

  • Sidgwick furthers the discussion by pointing out some of the dangers of such drastic revisions.

  • Improvements may not successfully embed itself in society causing drastic instabilities.

  • Exceptions to keeping a promise causes a greater risk in undermining valuable norms of society.

Methods of ethics2

Methods of Ethics

  • Conclusion: the majority of society has rules that a conscientious utilitarian will only very rarely justify breaking.



  • Against Conventional Morality – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.

  • Duty and Intuition – W.D. Ross, The Right and the Good.

  • Rational Choice and Fairness – John Rawls, A Theory of Justice.

    All readings from Pp. 524-540

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