From the three groups of questions below, select three questions (but only one q

From the three groups of questions below, select three questions (but only one question
from each group.) For one question, please prepare a detailed essay, dealing with the
question as adequately as you can. For the other two, please prepare short-essay
answers (perhaps a page or two each.)
on Monday, May 20.
Group I.
1. “Ought” and “Is”
In the Treatise, Hume writes:
In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, . . . the author
proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning. . . when all of a
sudden I am surprised to find that, instead of the usual copulations of
propositions IS and IS NOT, I meet with no proposition that is not connected
with an OUGHT or OUGHT NOT. . . . This OUGHT or OUGHT NOT expresses
some new relation or affirmation. . . A reason should be given, for what seems
altogether inconceivable, how this now relation can be a deduction from others
which are entirely different from it.”
This remark, read as indicating a DIFFERENCE IN TYPE between facts and values,
has been pivotal in discussions of ethics ever since Hume’s times. It has been taken as
the basis for a rejection of “ethical naturalism” *”(roughly: an Aristotelean-style ethics),
or Utilitarianism, or even the view that there is no such a thing as ethical truth at all, a
view called ethical non-cognitivism.)
How do you think any two of the authors we have read throughout this course would
respond to this claim? Do you think their (probable) responses sound? (As always, why
or why not?)
2. Equality
Although this idea played no pronounced role in the ethical thinking of the ancients or
the mediaeval ethicists, it plays (in one way or another) big roles in (almost) every
ethical theory of modern times.
So what are some of the various roles that the idea of equality plays or can play in
ethical theory? What role(s) does the idea of equality play in any two of the philosophers
we have studied? Does ‘equality’ bear different meanings in these different cases?
3. Obligation
“It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only
obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”
Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
How might any two of the philosophers we’ve studied appraise and/or respond to that
claim? Why?
Group II:
4. Utility and Justice
A traditional criticism of utilitarianism is that it – ultimately – leaves no place for the
independent bindingness of such concepts as justice or rights. While utilitarians do
indeed regard justice as an important element of ethics, they ultimately reduce it to, and
thus make it subordinate to: utility. (Hume is particularly clear on this.)
The complaint is that – depending on how the cards fall – the utilitarian is committed to
rejecting the demands of justice or duty in the name of utility.
How might a utilitarian like Mill respond? How would you evaluate such a response?
5. A Genealogy of Morals?
Nietzsche has argued that in order to understand what morality is and how it works, it is
necessary to undertake a genealogy of morals, uncovering its sources in history and in
the human psyche. Seeking to simply “consider moral questions” directly, he thinks,
obscures their basic natures.
How might any two philosophers we’ve read (such as Aquinas, Hobbes, Kant, Mill,)
respond to Nietzsche?
Can you think of any philosophers we’ve read whose positions might approach being
amenable to Nietzsche’s view? If so, who and why so?
6. Natural Rights and Natural Law
The idea of natural law and natural rights pretty well permeates the western ethical
tradition (in one manner or another), yet it has opponents who have labeled it
“nonsense on stilts” (J. Bentham).
In what manner(s) do you think that one might legitimately go about arguing for and/or
against a theory of natural law/natural rights in the framework of 2024?
Group III.
7. Loyalty and duty
In Confucius’ Analects, we find the following passage:
The Governor of Shi told Confucius, “Our village has a man named
‘Straight Body.’ When his father stole a sheep, he testified against him.”
Confucius answered, “In our village those who are straight are quite
different. Fathers cover up for their sons, and sons cover up for their
fathers. Straightness is to be found in such behavior.”
Do you agree with Confucius? Why or why not? How would you defend your view? How
might any two of the philosophers we have studied respond, and why?
8. Acting on Principle?
One major problem in Kant’s account of the categorical Imperative is the difficulty of
identifying, in any particular case, the specific relevant maxim to be applied.
As we began our course, in the Trolley Problem we looked at the plethora of
considerations (principles) one might appeal to when facing a moral question.
So, when considering any case where you think it appropriate (=right) to act according
to a principle:
How might you decide between the various descriptions of the case in question? And
thus between the various principles that might apply?
Assuming let’s say, that the principle is something like “Stealing is wrong” :
Is taking-food-to-feed-one’s-starving-family morally different from stealing per se?
Is stealing from a thief still morally objectionable?
Is it morally acceptable to steal from someone who has stolen from you?
A man trying to escape an attacker grabs a bicycle to flee. Did he steal it?
(In short, when – in what sorts of cases – is stealing ‘stealing’ in the sense of the
principle, and which not, and why?)
Do you think this sort of consideration tells against any philosopher who emphasis
acting on principle? How do you think Kant – or any other deontological ethicist – might
go about dealing with it?
9. Happiness
What IS happiness, anyway? How might any two of: Aristotle, Mill, Augustine, and
Nietzsche, or Rawls respond to that question? What (if any) are the ethical
consequences of taking one or another of the different views about it?
Does it MATTER, for ethics, what particular view of happiness one takes? (What might
any of the philosophers we’ve studied have to say about this?)