You are on page 1of 55

What ought I do and why ought I do it?

:
The Problem and Subject of Ethics

Moral Philosophy Lecture 1 Mark Anthony Dacela Philosophy Department De La Salle University

The Problems of Ethics


Case 1: You are strolling through a neighborhood park on a free afternoon when something in the bushes catches your eye. Its a womans purse, presumably lost. a. You look inside and find a drivers license. b. You also see a huge wad of cash (10k). What should you do ?

The Problems of Ethics


Case 1: You are strolling through a neighborhood park on a free afternoon when something in the bushes catches your eye. Its a womans purse, presumably lost. a. You look inside and find a drivers license. b. You also see a huge wad of cash (10k). What should you do ?
1. If S is honest : C1: S will look on the license for an address or look to see whether there is an identification card with a phone number he/she can call.

The Problems of Ethics


Case 1: You are strolling through a neighborhood park on a free afternoon when something in the bushes catches your eye. Its a womans purse, presumably lost. a. You look inside and find a drivers license. b. You also see a huge wad of cash (10k). What should you do ?
1. If S is honest : C1: S will look on the license for an address or look to see whether there is an identification card with a phone number he/she can call. 2. If S is dishonest S would take the cash and toss the purse back into the bushes.

Suppose that
1. 2. S is down on his luck or struggling to make ends meet. There is no chance for S to get caught.

Suppose that
1. 2. S is down on his luck or struggling to make ends meet. There is no chance for S to get caught.

Q1:

Why should S be honest?

Suppose that
1. 2. S is down on his luck or struggling to make ends meet. There is no chance for S to get caught.

Q1:

Why should S be honest?

Objection 1:

Suppose that
1. 2. S is down on his luck or struggling to make ends meet. There is no chance for S to get caught.

Q1:

Why should S be honest?

Objection 1: If honesty entails C1. Given 1 and 2 honesty does not appear nearly as profitable as dishonesty.

Suppose that
1. 2. S is down on his luck or struggling to make ends meet. There is no chance for S to get caught.

Q1:

Why should S be honest?

Objection 1: If honesty entails C1. Given 1 and 2 honesty does not appear nearly as profitable as dishonesty. a. b. If you keep the money you get to pay your debt or buy valuable things. Keeping the money is dishonest.

Suppose that
1. 2. S is down on his luck or struggling to make ends meet. There is no chance for S to get caught.

Q1:

Why should S be honest?

Objection 1: If honesty entails C1. Given 1 and 2 honesty does not appear nearly as profitable as dishonesty. a. b. If you keep the money you get to pay your debt or buy valuable things. Keeping the money is dishonest.

Objection 1: If honesty entails C1. Given 1 and 2 honesty does not appear nearly as profitable as dishonesty. a. b. If you keep the money you get to pay your debt or buy valuable things. Keeping the money is dishonest.

Objection 1: If honesty entails C1. Given 1 and 2 honesty does not appear nearly as profitable as dishonesty. a. b. If you keep the money you get to pay your debt or buy valuable things. Keeping the money is dishonest.

B is a strong and overriding reason to return it.

Objection 1: If honesty entails C1. Given 1 and 2 honesty does not appear nearly as profitable as dishonesty. a. b. If you keep the money you get to pay your debt or buy valuable things. Keeping the money is dishonest.

B is a strong and overriding reason to return it. But why? This cannot simply be assumed.

Conclusion 1: Doing the honest thing given 1 and 2 is to act without good reason. Conclusion 2: Only ignorant and weak-minded people will act honestly given 1 and 2.

Conclusion 1: Doing the honest thing given 1 and 2 is to act without good reason. Conclusion 2: Only ignorant and weak-minded people will act honestly given 1 and 2. Unless one can show that you have good reason to be honest even in circumstances in which you could keep your dishonesty secret and profit from it these conclusions are unavoidable.

Conclusion 1: Doing the honest thing given 1 and 2 is to act without good reason. Conclusion 2: Only ignorant and weak-minded people will act honestly given 1 and 2. Unless one can show that you have good reason to be honest even in circumstances in which you could keep your dishonesty secret and profit from it these conclusions are unavoidable. One ought to do x given y.

Conclusion 1: Doing the honest thing given 1 and 2 is to act without good reason. Conclusion 2: Only ignorant and weak-minded people will act honestly given 1 and 2. Unless one can show that you have good reason to be honest even in circumstances in which you could keep your dishonesty secret and profit from it these conclusions are unavoidable. One ought to do x given y.

The Immoralist Challenge


Q2: Is the best life, assuming success in that life, one of O1: justice and honesty or O2: the opposite?

Conclusion 1: Doing the honest thing given 1 and 2 is to act without good reason. Conclusion 2: Only ignorant and weak-minded people will act honestly given 1 and 2. Unless one can show that you have good reason to be honest even in circumstances in which you could keep your dishonesty secret and profit from it these conclusions are unavoidable. One ought to do x given y.

The Immoralist Challenge


Q2: Is the best life, assuming success in that life, one of O1: justice and honesty or O2: the opposite? T argues for 02.

Argument for Immorality:


People who act with complete injustice provided they can make themselves invulnerable to punishment, live decidedly better lives than people who are completely honest and just. i. ii. iii. To act justly is to act for anothers good and not ones own. Just and honest people always come out on the short end in their relations with unjust people. The unjust person gains riches and seizes opportunities that the just person forgoes The life of greater riches and more opportunities is surely the better life. Therefore the best life assuming success in that life is of being unjust and dishonest.

iv. v.

Argument for Immorality:


People who act with complete injustice provided they can make themselves invulnerable to punishment, live decidedly better lives than people who are completely honest and just. i. ii. iii. To act justly is to act for anothers good and not ones own. Just and honest people always come out on the short end in their relations with unjust people. The unjust person gains riches and seizes opportunities that the just person forgoes The life of greater riches and more opportunities is surely the better life. Therefore the best life assuming success in that life is of being unjust and dishonest.

iv. v.

Argument for Immorality:


People who act with complete injustice provided they can make themselves invulnerable to punishment, live decidedly better lives than people who are completely honest and just. i. ii. iii. To act justly is to act for anothers good and not ones own. Just and honest people always come out on the short end in their relations with unjust people. The unjust person gains riches and seizes opportunities that the just person forgoes The life of greater riches and more opportunities is surely the better life. Therefore the best life assuming success in that life is of being unjust and dishonest.

iv. v.

The most happy of men is the one who practices injustice on a very large scale and succeeds. The completely just individual is at best a good-hearted fool.

Argument for Immorality II:


i. ii. iii. iv. A sneak with a magical ring could enrich himself by theft and advance his ambitions by murder while remaining above suspicion. The sneak could enjoy both the advantages of being esteemed by others as just and honest and the fruits of real crime. Whatever good one can gain from living a just and honest life one can also gain by fooling people into believing that one is just and honest even when one isnt. Therefore, the sneak live a better life than the truly just individual.

Argument for Immorality II:


i. ii. iii. iv. A sneak with a magical ring could enrich himself by theft and advance his ambitions by murder while remaining above suspicion. The sneak could enjoy both the advantages of being esteemed by others as just and honest and the fruits of real crime. Whatever good one can gain from living a just and honest life one can also gain by fooling people into believing that one is just and honest even when one isnt. Therefore, the sneak live a better life than the truly just individual.

Justice and honesty has no intrinsic merit and it therefore not worth practicing for its own sake. Q3: On what basis, if any, can we understand justice as admirable in itself, as something one has good reason to practice even in circumstances in which one would profit from injustice without the least fear of being found out?

The Subject of Ethics


i. ii. iii. Ethics is the philosophical study of morality. It is a study of what are good and bad ends to pursue in life and what it is right and wrong to do in the conduct of life. It is a practical discipline: Its primary aim is to determine how one ought to live and what actions one ought to do in the conduct of ones life.

The Subject of Ethics


i. ii. iii. Ethics is the philosophical study of morality. It is a study of what are good and bad ends to pursue in life and what it is right and wrong to do in the conduct of life. It is a practical discipline: Its primary aim is to determine how one ought to live and what actions one ought to do in the conduct of ones life.

Two Notions of Morality 1. 2. Morality as an existing institution of a particular society, what is commonly called the societys conventional morality. Morality as a universal ideal grounded in reason.

Argument for Universal Morality as the Subject of Ethics

i. ii. iii. iv.

v.

vi.

The primary aim of ethics is to determine how one ought to live and what actions one ought to do in the conduct of ones life. A conventional morality is a set of norms of a particular society that are generally accepted and followed by the societys members. Sometimes these beliefs rest on superstitions and prejudices, and sometimes the corresponding customs and practices promote cruelty and inflict indignity. It can happen that a person comes to recognize such facts about some of the norms belonging to his societys conventional morality and, though observance of these norms has become second nature in him, to conclude that he ought to reject them. Implicit in this is the realization that one has to look beyond the conventional morality of ones society to determine what ends to pursue in life and what it is right to do in the conduct of life. Therefore conventional morality cannot be the subject of ethics.

Argument against CM as the Basis of a Sound Decision to Act 1. 2. A sound decision requires a basis consist of standards that derive their authority from rational thought or reason. Conventional norms derives their authority in ones thinking from their being generally accepted and enforced in ones society. That a norm is being generally accepted and enforced in ones society is not a sufficient reason to follow it. To act merely on the basis of these norms is not a sound decision.

3.
4.

Universal Morality Conventional Morality

Universal Morality Conventional Morality Ethics is a practical discipline: Its primary aim is to determine how one ought to live and what actions one ought to do in the conduct of ones life.

Subject of Ethics

Universal Morality Conventional Morality Ethics is a practical discipline: Its primary aim is to determine how one ought to live and what actions one ought to do in the conduct of ones life.

Subject of Ethics

Universal Morality Conventional Morality Ethics is a practical discipline: Its primary aim is to determine how one ought to live and what actions one ought to do in the conduct of ones life.

Subject of Ethics

Universal Morality Conventional Morality Ethics as a philosophical study consists in finding the standards UM comprises, expounding them systematically, and establishing the rational grounds of their authority in practical thinking.

Q3: On what basis, if any, can we understand justice as admirable in itself, as something one has good reason to practice even in circumstances in which one would profit from injustice without the least fear of being found out?

Q3: On what basis, if any, can we understand justice as admirable in itself, as something one has good reason to practice even in circumstances in which one would profit from injustice without the least fear of being found out?

Why is Q3 central to this study?

Q3: On what basis, if any, can we understand justice as admirable in itself, as something one has good reason to practice even in circumstances in which one would profit from injustice without the least fear of being found out?

Why is Q3 central to this study?


It would be disconcerting, to say the least, If it turned out that the authority that basic standards of justice and honesty had in our practical thinking derived from custom only and was not backed by reason.

The Challenge for Ethicist


To find rational grounds for the authority that basic standards of justice and honesty carry in practical thought.

The Challenge for Ethicist


To find rational grounds for the authority that basic standards of justice and honesty carry in practical thought. To justify on rational grounds taking these standards as ultimate guides to what one ought to do in the conduct of ones life.

Q3: On what basis, if any, can we understand justice as admirable in itself, as something one has good reason to practice even in circumstances in which one would profit from injustice without the least fear of being found out?

Based on a mistake.

Q3: On what basis, if any, can we understand justice as admirable in itself, as something one has good reason to practice even in circumstances in which one would profit from injustice without the least fear of being found out?

Based on a mistake.

It supposes that morality is a system of standards whose authority in practical thought is dependent on the desires and interests of those whose conduct the system regulates.

An Alternative Conception of Morality


1. Morality is a system of standards whose authority in practical thought is independent of the desires and interests of those whose conduct the system regulates. 2. These standards define duties, for to have a duty to do something is to be bound to it regardless of ones attitudes about doing it or the effect on ones interests doing it. 3. Therefore, morality as a system of standards of conduct can have authority in ones practical thinking even though it does not guide one toward achieving ones ends or satisfying ones interests.

Two senses of Ought


I ought to do x. 1. I am duty bound to do x. 2. I am well-advised in view of my ends and interests to do x. When ought is used in this sense to ask questions like Q3 they fail to challenge the Authority of basic standards of justice and honesty.

Q3: On what basis, if any, can we understand justice as admirable in itself, as something one has good reason to practice even in circumstances in which one would profit from injustice without the least fear of being found out?

Two senses of Ought


I ought to do x. 1. I am duty bound to do x. 2. I am well-advised in view of my ends and interests to do x. When ought is used in this sense to ask questions like Q3 they fail to challenge the Authority of basic standards of justice and honesty. However advantageous acting unjustly or dishonestly might be in some circumstances, one may still be duty-bound to act justly and honestly in them.

Two senses of Ought


I ought to do x. 1. I am duty bound to do x. 2. I am well-advised in view of my ends and interests to do x. When ought is used in this sense to ask questions like Q3 they fail to challenge the Authority of basic standards of justice and honesty. However advantageous acting unjustly or dishonestly might be in some circumstances, one may still be duty-bound to act justly and honestly in them. PLATO puts ethics in the wrong track when he sought to justify the authority basic standards of justice and honesty have in a persons practical thinking on the basis of what best serves his ends and interests.

Two Types of Ethical Theory


T1 Theories that side with Plato. They support the conception that morality comprises standards of right and wrong conduct that have authority in practical thought in virtue of the ends or interests served by the conduct that these standards guide.

Two Types of Ethical Theory


T1 Theories that side with Plato. They support the conception that morality comprises standards of right and wrong conduct that have authority in practical thought in virtue of the ends or interests served by the conduct that these standards guide. These theories are TELEOLOGICAL.

Two Types of Ethical Theory


T1 Theories that side with Plato. They support the conception that morality comprises standards of right and wrong conduct that have authority in practical thought in virtue of the ends or interests served by the conduct that these standards guide. These theories are TELEOLOGICAL. T2 Theories that oppose Plato. They support the conception that morality comprises standards of right and wrong conduct that have authority in practical thought independently of the ends or interests of those whose conduct they guide.

Two Types of Ethical Theory


T1 Theories that side with Plato. They support the conception that morality comprises standards of right and wrong conduct that have authority in practical thought in virtue of the ends or interests served by the conduct that these standards guide. These theories are TELEOLOGICAL. T2 Theories that oppose Plato. They support the conception that morality comprises standards of right and wrong conduct that have authority in practical thought independently of the ends or interests of those whose conduct they guide. These theories are DEONTOLOGICAL

Two Types of Ethical Theory


T1 One ought to do x = Df. One is well-advised to do x in view of certain ends or interests.

Two Types of Ethical Theory


T1 One ought to do x = Df. One is well-advised to do x in view of certain ends or interests. One ought to do x = one is duty-bound to do x.

T2

One ought to do x given y.

Ethical Theories and Moral Ideals


C: I ought to do x given y

Ethical Theories and Moral Ideals


C: I ought to do x given y Conformity to C is ideal.

Ethical Theories and Moral Ideals


C: I ought to do x given y Conformity to C is ideal. Moral Ideal.

Ethical Theories and Moral Ideals


C: I ought to do x given y Conformity to C is ideal. MI tells us why we ought to conform to these standards. Moral Ideal.

Ethical Theories and Moral Ideals


C: I ought to do x given y Conformity to C is ideal. MI tells us why we ought to conform to these standards. Given M1, I ought to do X given Y. Moral Ideal.

A complete ethical theory not only formulates and systemizes the standards of morality, but also justifies them by laying out the rational grounds of their authority in practical thought.

End Note
I have three objectives these past few weeks: 1) to explain what ethics is strictly speaking, as a philosophical study (what question does it seek to answer, what is its subject matter), 2) to offer a way of evaluating ethical theories by identifying their general features (that all theories seek to offer reasons for doing what is good, that they qualify what counts as doing the good, that they would assume a Moral Ideal, that they would assume a sense of ought and consequently a conception of morality), and 3) to offer a litmus test for these theories (i.e. Q1 and Q3). 1, 2, and 3 combined constitute a framework by which you can approach ethical theories. You may ask then the following questions when evaluating an ethical theory: 1) How does it answer Q1? 2) How does it answer Q3? 3) What sense of ought does it assume? and 4) What conception of Morality does it assume?