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PHIL/POLS/INTP264 Ethics and International Affairs. Lecture 1: Intro/Utilitarianism 7 July 2008. Some Moral Theories. Utilitarianism (Rachels article) Kantian Ethics (O’Neill article) The Wrongness of Killing (Norman article) Why do we need moral theories?

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phil pols intp264 ethics and international affairs

PHIL/POLS/INTP264 Ethics and International Affairs

Lecture 1: Intro/Utilitarianism

7 July 2008

some moral theories
Some Moral Theories
  • Utilitarianism (Rachels article)
  • Kantian Ethics (O’Neill article)
  • The Wrongness of Killing (Norman article)
  • Why do we need moral theories?
    • Justify and/or morally appraise actions
    • Enable moral debate
utilitarianism rachels
Utilitarianism (Rachels)
  • The morally right action is the one (out of all possible actions) that is judged to have the best overall consequences

* All other actions are morally wrong/inferior

  • Best consequences = maximise happiness

* Happiness = (net pleasure/pain, or preference satisfaction)

  • No one’s happiness is to count more than anyone else’s in determination of overall happiness


1. To hedonism: Is happiness all that matters? (deceived businessman/ experience machine e.g.)



2. To consequences:

  • Justice (lonesome stranger e.g.)
  • Rights (peeping tom e.g.)
  • Backward looking considerations (promises)


  • Examples unrealistic (but real life examples readily available)
  • Rule utilitarianism
  • So much the worse for our ordinary moral intuitions
utilitarianism rachels8
Utilitarianism (Rachels)

Utilitarianism is right to warn against taking moral common sense at face value, but still some objections to the theory seem to have a rational basis; e.g., moral desert.

next time
Next Time
  • Kantian Ethics
  • Reading:
    • Onora O’Neill
    • A Simplified Account of Kant’s Ethics
    • In the course reader
phil pols intp264 ethics and international affairs10

PHIL/POLS/INTP264 Ethics and International Affairs

Lecture 2: Kantian Ethics

10 July 2008

kantian ethics o neill
Kantian Ethics (O’Neill)

1. Different formulations of fundamental moral principle (Categorical Imperative)

  • O’Neill focuses on Formula of the End in Itself:

One should always treat humanity, whether in others or in oneself, always as an end, and never merely as a means

3. How are we to understand what it means to treat someone as an end, not a means?...

kantian ethics o neill12
Kantian Ethics (O’Neill)
  • Acts are based on maxims
  • A maxim is a subjective principle of action, a policy for how someone intends to act in certain circumstances

e.g., ‘I should get to class on time’, ‘I should keep my promises’, etc.

  • Examining one’s maxims will tell whether one’s actions are morally permissible or not, according to Kant
kantian ethics o neill13
Kantian Ethics (O’Neill)

4. An act is morally impermissible (wrong) if it uses another in a way to which they could not, in principle, consent. Examples:

a. deceit (lying, false promise, etc.)

b. coercion

kantian ethics o neill14
Kantian Ethics (O’Neill)

Justice vs. Beneficence:

1. There are two types of moral duty, according to Kant, duties of justice and duties of beneficence.

a. Duties of justice require one not to treat others as mere means, but as ends in themselves (as discussed)

b. Duties of beneficence require one to sometimes act to further the ends of others

kantian ethics o neill15
Kantian Ethics (O’Neill)
  • Scope & precision of Kantian Ethics vs. Utilitarianism:

Kantian ethics lacks scope of utilitarianism, but it is more precise in guiding individuals’ conduct in the areas of life that it does apply.

kantian ethics o neill16
Kantian Ethics (O’Neill)

a. Scope example: Kantian ethics doesn’t apply, ordinarily, to the question whether it is right to brush one’s teeth; utilitarianism does apply, in principle.

  • Precision example: In cases where a potential act involves, for e.g., intentionally killing an innocent person, Kantian ethics offers absolute answer: it is always wrong.

- Whereas Utilitarianism may or may not permit such killing, depending on the consequences for overall happiness

some moral dilemmas
Some Moral Dilemmas
  • The Tram Dilemma
  • The Surgeon’s Dilemma
  • The Jungle Dilemma
  • What would a Utilitarian and a Kantian do?
  • What would be morally right to do?
the tram dilemma
The Tram Dilemma
  • An out of control tram will soon kill 5 people who are stuck on the track.
  • You can flick a switch to divert the tram to another track where only one person is stuck.
  • Should you flip the switch?
  • Should you kill one person to save five?


the surgeon s dilemma
The Surgeon’s Dilemma
  • You are a surgeon with six patients.
  • Five of them need major organ transplants.
  • The sixth, an ideal donor for all the relevant organs, is in hospital for a minor operation.
  • Should you kill one person to save five?
jungle dilemma
Jungle Dilemma
  • You are trekking alone in the Amazon.
  • You discover an evil army officer and his troops rounding up villagers.
  • Unless you kill one, the troops will kill six.
  • Should you kill one person to save five?
jungle dilemma cont
Jungle Dilemma Cont.
  • What if there are 2 villagers?
  • What if there are 10 villagers?
  • What if there are 100 villagers?
  • Can you ever kill one innocent person to save many?
next time22
Next Time
  • Why killing is wrong
  • Reading:
    • Richard Norman
    • The Wrongness of Killing
    • In the course reader
phil pols intp264 ethics and international affairs23

PHIL/POLS/INTP264 Ethics and International Affairs

Lecture 3: The Wrongness of Killing

11 July 2008

the wrongness of killing
The Wrongness of Killing

Utilitarianism: Life is valuable because living things are sentient (or capable of feeling pleasure/pain, happiness). But, persons can be sacrificed for the greater good (i.e., a greater amount of happiness).

Kantianism: Life is valuable because humans are rational. Persons cannot be sacrificed for any ‘greater good’. “Respect for persons”

right to life norman
“Right to Life” (Norman)
  • Are there any basic rights?
  • According to Norman, no; all rights are essentially social.
    • He claims that such questions cannot be answered simply by appealing to the notion of rights. There must be some morally relevant consideration that is prior to that of rights.
sanctity of life norman
“Sanctity of Life” (Norman)

1. Religious connotations problematic

2. Even on secular conception of reverence or awe or respect to life, the notion is too broad.

a. does it include all life?

b. Human life? (why?; speciesism)

c. Animal life above a certain threshold? Again, why there?

sanctity of life norman27
“Sanctity of Life” (Norman)

3. If the criterion is one of rationality or some other cognitive criterion, then what about those animals who possess it (or those humans that don’t?)

4. Potentiality: problematic

utilitarian objections to killing norman
Utilitarian Objections to Killing (Norman)

1. It normally causes pain and suffering to the person killed and their loved ones

a. In line with certain of our intuitions, i.e., with regard to euthanasia and anencephaly

b. But what about those cases where killing doesn’t cause pain and the person is a normally functioning adult hermit?

  • Deprives them of future happiness
raskolnikov s dilemma
Raskolnikov’s Dilemma
  • "On the one hand, we have a stupid, senseless, worthless, wicked, and decrepit old hag, who is of no use to anybody and who actually does harm to everybody, a creature who does not know herself what she is living for and who will be dead soon, anyway. . . On the other hand, we have. . . Hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives could be saved, dozens of families could be rescued from a life of poverty, from decay and ruin, from vice and hospitals for venereal diseases - and all with her money. Kill her, take her money, and with its help devote yourself to the service of humanity and the good of all. Well, don't you think that one little crime could be expiated and wiped out by thousands of good deeds?“
  • Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky
respect for autonomy norman
Respect for Autonomy (Norman)

1. Similar to Kantian Ethics

a. but, just how autonomous does one need to be to be worthy of respect?

b. Again, what about borderline cases, infants and severely retarded persons; and higher animals?

respect for life norman
Respect for Life (Norman)
  • Maybe what’s significant about taking life is that it involves fundamental disrespect for life* as a whole

* Where life means: the continuing process of experience and development

  • To make sense of this, the concept of potentiality must be reintroduced at some level; early deaths, Norman claims, are especially tragic (but infants are borderline?)
  • Is this a problem for non-philosophers?
marginal cases
Marginal Cases
  • Important to recognize marginal cases as indeed marginal (i.e., abortion)
  • Doesn’t follow that because there are hard cases, everything is subjective or relative. (is duck-billed platypus a mammal or not?)
  • In practical sphere, as opposed to theoretical, much more pressure to have definite answer
the doctrine of double effect
The Doctrine of Double Effect
  • The doctrine of double effect claims that:
    • Sometimes it is morally permissible to knowingly but unintentionally cause harm as a side effect of intending to do some good act (presumably with good consequences).
  • And, this is the case even when that side-effect harm should not (morally speaking) have been intentionally caused to bring about those same good consequences.
  • E.g. Dropping 1080 on national parks
  • E.g. Dropping nukes on Japan