moral philosophy readings in
Jonathan Wolff Blavatnik Professor of Public Policy
Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University
n W. W. NOrtON & COm PaNy
N ew Yor k • LoN doN
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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
To Tom, Kirra- Lee, Kayley, and Jaxon John
Pa rt 1 Meta- Ethics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Thomas Nagel Right and Wrong 10 Study Questions 16
DaviD hume Moral Distinctions Not Derived From Reason 17 Study Questions 22
RuTh BeNeDicT Patterns of Culture 22 Study Questions 26
maRy miDgley Trying Out One’s New Sword 26 Study Questions 31
FRieDRich NieTzsche Beyond Good and Evil 32 Study Questions 39
viii ■ Contents
a. J. ayeR A Critique of Ethics 39 Study Questions 47
J. l. mackie Inventing Right and Wrong 47 Study Questions 55
haRRy g. FRaNkFuRT Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility 56 Study Questions 65
PlaTo God and Morality 65 Study Questions 71
PeTeR siNgeR Evolution and Morality 71 Study Questions 83
Pa rt 2 Normative Ethics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84 sT. Thomas aquiNas The Natural Law 95 Study Questions 102
ayN RaND The Ethics of Emergencies 102 Study Questions 108
PlaTo What Is the Value of Justice? 108 Study Questions 116
Thomas hoBBes The State of Nature 117 Study Questions 125
Contents ■ ix
JohN RaWls The Original Position 125 Study Questions 132
JeRemy BeNTham An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation 132 Study Questions 140
JohN sTuaRT mill Utilitarianism 140 Study Questions 150
RoBeRT Nozick The Experience Machine 150 Study Questions 152
immaNuel kaNT The Categorical Imperative 152 Study Questions 160
aNNeTTe BaieR The Need for More than Justice 160 Study Questions 172
aRisToTle Nicomachean Ethics 172 Study Questions 183
coNFucius Analects 183 Study Questions 188
viRgiNia helD The Caring Person 188 Study Questions 198
JeaN- Paul saRTRe Existentialism and Humanism 198 Study Questions 207
x ■ Contents
Pa rt 3 Applied Ethics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 208 Gender equa lity 208 maRy WollsToNecRaFT A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 212 Study Questions 218
simoNe De BeauvoiR The Second Sex 218 Study Questions 232
auDRe loRDe Age, Race, Class, and Sex 232 Study Questions 241
loRi giRshick Gender Policing 241 Study Questions 252
compare and contrast questions 252
Fr ee Speech a nd itS limitS 252 JohN sTuaRT mill On Liberty of Expression 254 Study Questions 268
caThaRiNe mackiNNoN Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech 268 Study Questions 278
gReg lukiaNoFF aND JoNaThaN haiDT The Coddling of the American Mind 278 Study Questions 290
compare and contrast questions 290
Contents ■ xi
Sexua l mor a lity 291 lois PiNeau Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis 293 Study Questions 306
Nicholas DixoN Alcohol and Rape 306 Study Questions 316
coNoR kelly Feminist Ethics: Evaluating the Hookup Culture 316 Study Questions 328
compare and contrast questions 328
a bortion 328 JuDiTh JaRvis ThomsoN A Defense of Abortion 332 Study Questions 340
maRy aNNe WaRReN On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion 340 Study Questions 352
DoN maRquis Why Abortion Is Immoral 352 Study Questions 361
RosaliND huRsThouse Virtue Theory and Abortion 361 Study Questions 370
compare and contrast questions 370
euth a naSia 371 James Rachels Active and Passive Euthanasia 372 Study Questions 378
PhiliPPa FooT Euthanasia 379 Study Questions 388
compare and contrast questions 388
the death pena lty 388 JohN sTuaRT mill Speech in Defense of Capital Punishment 390 Study Questions 397
hugo aDam BeDau How to Argue About the Death Penalty 397 Study Questions 406
compare and contrast question 406
the cr imina lization oF druGS 407 Douglas husak Four Points About Drug Decriminalization 408 Study Questions 420
geoRge sheR On the Decriminalization of Drugs 420 Study Questions 426
compare and contrast question 426
a nim a l r iGhtS 426 immaNuel kaNT Duties Towards Animals 428 Study Questions 429
PeTeR siNgeR All Animals Are Equal 429 Study Questions 435
xii ■ Contents
RogeR scRuToN Animal Rights and Wrongs 436 Study Questions 443
compare and contrast questions 443
the en vironment 443 alDo leoPolD The Land Ethic 445 Study Questions 457
DaRRel moelleNDoRF Justice and Climate Change 457 Study Questions 467
compare and contrast question 467
Wa r 468 JohN RaWls 50 Years After Hiroshima 469 Study Questions 476
Thomas Nagel War and Massacre 476 Study Questions 487
compare and contrast question 487
ter ror a nd tortur e 488 alaN DeRshoWiTz Should the Ticking Bomb Terrorist Be Tortured? 489 Study Questions 500
michael WalzeR Terrorism: A Critique of Excuses 501 Study Questions 511
compare and contrast question 511
Contents ■ xiii
r eSiSta nce 511 heNRy DaviD ThoReau On Civil Disobedience 513 Study Questions 521
maRTiN luTheR kiNg JR. Letter From Birmingham Jail 522 Study Questions 530
NelsoN maNDela I Am Prepared to Die 530 Study Questions 540
compare and contrast questions 540
r acia l JuStice 541 W. e. B. Du Bois The Souls of Black Folk 543 Study Questions 550
elizaBeTh aNDeRsoN Racial Integration Remains an Imperative 550 Study Questions 564
shelBy sTeele Affirmative Action: The Price of Preference 565 Study Questions 572
geoRge yaNcy aND JuDiTh BuTleR Black Lives Matter 572 Study Questions 580
compare and contrast questions 581
economic JuStice 581 JohN RaWls A Theory of Justice 583 Study Questions 590
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RoBeRT Nozick The Entitlement Theory of Justice 590 Study Questions 598
iRis maRioN youNg Political Responsibility and Structural Injustice 598 Study Questions 612
compare and contrast questions 612
Wor ld hunGer a nd For eiGn a id 612 PeTeR siNgeR Famine, Affluence, and Morality 614 Study Questions 622
DamBisa moyo Dead Aid 622 Study Questions 626
oNoRa o’Neill Ending World Hunger 626 Study Questions 638
compare and contrast questions 638
Credits C- 1 Index I- 1
Contents ■ xv
T his book is designed to accompany my textbook An Introduction to Moral Philosophy, also published by W. W. Norton. Although they are produced so that they can be used independently of each other, together they provide an extensive and substantial introduction to moral philosophy. Part 1 of this volume, Meta- Ethics, provides fuller versions of texts discussed in An Introduction to Moral Philosophy, but
can provide only a sample of issues and texts rather than aiming to be com- prehensive. Part 2, Normative Ethics, also provides support for An Introduc- tion, with selections from philosophers discussed in depth there, including Bentham, Mill, Kant, Aristotle, and their critics, but also extends the range of sources by including philosophers such as Confucius and Sartre. Part 3, Applied Ethics, takes the extension further by including readings on a wide range of applied topics that are only touched on, or not covered at all, in An Introduction.
A particular effort has been made to include pieces written by women and people of color, and this has led to the inclusion of several readings from writers who are not generally regarded as philosophers, such as Nelson Mandela and the poet and radical thinker Audre Lorde. These writers have been selected because they raise important ethical questions, even if they do not discuss them in the standard terms of Western moral philosophy. The readings allow us to ref lect on the nature of the central issues they raise, as well as the boundaries of what should be studied under the heading “moral philosophy.” Some may question their inclusion; if so, I welcome the debate.
Readings in Moral Philosophy includes introductions to each part and section as well as study questions, which test reading comprehension, and compare and contrast questions, which test a student’s ability to synthesize different philosophical viewpoints. The book is also supported by a full test bank and a coursepack of assignable quizzes and discussion prompts that
xviii ■ Preface
loads into most learning management systems. Access these resources at digital.wwnorton.com/readmoral.
This book would not exist without the efforts, encouragement, and vari- ous methods of persuasion of a number of people, most notably Roby Har- rington, Peter Simon, and especially Ken Barton and Michael Moss, all at W. W. Norton. I originally conceived the project on a much more modest level, simply to provide fuller versions of texts quoted or discussed in An Introduction. Ken and Michael persuaded me to think on a grander scale and conducted extensive research with instructors to identify what they most wanted to see in a book like this. Of course it is not possible to satisfy everyone completely, or indeed anyone, and hard choices had to be made. We hope we have made the right ones, but very much welcome further feedback for future editions.
It would be impossible to thank everyone who gave their opinion on the contents of this book, but a number of people gave substantial help and advice. I’d like to give my grateful thanks to Paul Abela, Acadia University; Caroline T. Arruda, University of Texas at El Paso; Andrew D. Chapman, University of Colorado, Boulder; Eric Gampel, California State University– Chico; Don Hatcher, Baker University; Carol Hay, University of Massachu- setts, Lowell; Rodger Jackson, Stockton University; Julie Kirsch, D’Youville College; Michael McKeon, Barry University; Timothy J. Nulty, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; Andrew Pavelich, University of Houston; Arina Pismenny, Montclair State University; Aleksandar Pjevalica, University of Texas at El Paso; Weaver Santaniello, Penn State University; Daniel Star, Boston University; and Glenn Tiller, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi.
I would particularly like to thank Derek Bowman, Providence College; Rory Kraft, York College of Pennsylvania; and Joanna Smolenski, CUNY, for their work in preparing the test bank and coursepack.
moral philosophy readings in
T he collection starts with a selection from Thomas Nagel’s introductory book on philosophy What Does It All Mean? Nagel raises the funda- mental question in moral philosophy of what it is we mean when we say that some conduct is wrong, using examples of stealing a library book and an umbrella in a rainstorm. It is not simply a matter of fol- lowing rules, for not all behavior is covered by rules and some rules
are themselves wrong. Often a sense that something is wrong is related to potential harm that could be caused to others, but suppose you just don’t care. Does that mean you no longer have a reason to avoid wrongdoing?
Nagel considers the response that God’s punishment or love provides a reason to avoid acting wrongly or, alternatively, that we should act well so that others act well to us, but he points out a number of limitations to those arguments. More promising is the idea that morality provides reasons that apply to everyone, and therefore in considering the morality of an act such as stealing another person’s umbrella we should ask “How would you like it if someone did that to you?” He answers that if we find that we would resent it, then this response shows that there is a type of universal reason not to steal the umbrella.
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Nagel suggests that morality requires us to adopt a general point of view, taking everyone’s interests into account and not just our own. Nevertheless, it would be very hard to live according to a morality in which I literally took everyone’s interests as seriously as I take my own, for example by giving to charity all but the bare minimum of my money. Somehow a line has to be drawn to allow me to pursue my own interests rather than devote myself entirely to the interests of others.
A further question is whether right and wrong are the same for everyone. Moral customs have changed over the centuries, which may lead us to think that moral standards should be relative to the standards of our own society. This is the question of cultural relativism, to which we will return shortly. Nagel comments that he finds cultural relativism very hard to believe, as it would seem to cut off the possibility of being critical about our own society’s moral standards.
Finally Nagel considers a challenge to morality that claims we always act selfishly and that any apparent morally good action is done purely to avoid guilt or to achieve the “warm glow” of self- satisfaction. But Nagel sug- gests that we would not feel guilty or experience a warm glow unless there were external moral standards to follow. Morality, he says, tries to appeal to impartial motivation, even though it may sometimes give way to selfish or personal motives.
Nagel raises numerous important issues and argues for particular posi- tions. But he recognizes that he has not provided a definitive answer to any of the questions raised. Therefore his discussion is a perfect springboard for further ref lection and an excellent introduction to moral philosophy.
We move next to David Hume, who, writing in the 18th century, aims to bring out a distinction between two ways of thinking about morality. One is that morality is based on “reason,” the other that it is based on what he calls “passions,” which we might now call “feelings” or perhaps “preferences” or “desires.” Hume claims that morality is a practical matter, leading to action, but, he also claims, reason alone cannot lead to action. He argues that reason reveals relations between ideas and hence concerns thought and belief alone. In order to motivate human action, something more than thought and belief is needed: desire. I can believe that there is a refreshing drink in front of me, but this will not lead me to drink it unless I have a desire to drink. Insofar as morality is a practical sphere, requiring people to be motivated to act, then morality must be based not merely on reason but also on desire or passion.
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Hume’s discussion suggests only a limited way in which we can use ideas of reason in our thinking about action. If we desire something, then reason can help us calculate how to achieve it. And we can sometimes use our rea- son to discover that something we desire is possible or available (or not). But the ultimate ends of our action cannot be criticized for being reasonable or unreasonable, or rational or irrational. There are some things that “excite our passions,” which is to say that we desire them, and some things that do not. On this view, no desire is irrational, unless it is a desire for something that will frustrate a more important desire. Similarly, Hume claims, we must come to understand that something is morally good through the fact that it accords with our passions, rather than because it is derived by our reason.
Hume next, in a very inf luential argument, points out that it has been very common for writers about moral questions to move from passages that describe some factual state of affairs to a judgment of right or wrong, with- out making clear how that transition is made. Hume wants us to appreciate that no statement about facts logically implies any moral judgment. On a literal reading of the text, Hume is simply pointing out that there is often a gap in the argument between “facts” and “values” and is criticizing other philosophers for leaving that gap unfilled. However, Hume is often read as suggesting that such a gap cannot be filled and that it is simply illegitimate to move from an “is”—a statement of fact— to an “ought”—a statement of values. And indeed this may well have been Hume’s subtle intention, raising a very significant question of how the “is/ought gap” can be filled.
The next reading is a short extract from the anthropologist Ruth Benedict which provides examples of cultural difference with respect to moral atti- tudes. Benedict lists different practices regarding the taking of life, and sui- cide, to support the claim that there are no universal values and that values differ from culture to culture. As an anthropologist her project is to under- stand cultures, rather than to make a philosophical argument. However, the type of evidence that Benedict draws on is often used in arguments for the view that there are no universal moral standards, but that moral standards differ from culture to culture and there is no external standpoint from which one can be judged “right” and another “wrong.” This is the view known as cultural relativism, mentioned above in relation to Nagel, and it is certainly encouraged, whether or not directly advocated, by Benedict’s writing.
Mary Midgley’s task is to consider the merits of the type of cultural rel- ativism suggested by the writings of Benedict and others, which Midgley calls “moral isolationism.” Such a view prevents us from criticizing other
cultures, for each culture’s value system is said to be relative to that particu- lar culture and hence immune to external judgment. Midgley points out that moral isolationism blocks praise as well as blame and makes it impossible to learn from other cultures. Indeed, she argues that moral isolationism makes it problematic for us even to judge our own culture, for what standards could we use if not comparisons with other cultures?
Midgley asks us to ref lect on what is claimed to be the ancient Samurai practice of “trying out one’s new sword” on an innocent wayfarer, who would be sliced in half as a result. An external critic might well condemn such a practice as barbaric. Midgley points out that one way of replying to the critic is to explain the practice as arising within Japanese culture and even to suggest that the wayfarer may well consent. In addition to raising the ques- tion of whether such consent is likely, Midgley points out that even to enter into such a discussion is to reject moral isolationism. The true isolationist response would be that it is simply not for us to try to judge or attempt to understand. But those tempted to say anything substantive in criticism or justification are applying one set of values (their own) to try to justify other practices. Moral isolationism turns out to be a very difficult theory to live by, and, Midgley argues, very misguided, as any real culture has been formed by a good number of different traditions, many from “outside,” which should not be possible on an isolationist view.
The challenge to conventional morality begun by cultural relativism or moral isolationism is continued in the extract of Friedrich Nietzsche’s bril- liant but rather elusive writings. He begins by applauding the role of strong people in human development and achievement. He moves on to a deeply par- adoxical position: that refraining from injuring, exploiting, and being violent to others, which is normally thought to be morally required, will lead to the denial of morality. Life, Nietzsche says, is “will to power,” by which he means the drive to impose one’s own goals on others, even at their expense. There- fore, conventional morality, in curbing the will to power, is contrary to life.
Nietzsche then goes on to distinguish what he calls “master morality” and “slave morality.” Master morality identifies the good with the aims of the nobility or aristocracy, which attempts to separate itself from the mass. The noble have contempt for the “cowardly” and inferior. They have the power even to determine their own values, and although they may help the weak, it is simply an exercise of their own power. “Good” is the exercise of the will of the nobility, and “bad” its frustration. Slave morality, by contrast, is the morality of “good” and “evil.” Nietzsche regards slave morality as a
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type of agreement or conspiracy among the weak, to protect them from the “evil” that they fear: those very people who are the masters of master morality. Hence slave morality turns out to be a conspiracy of the weak to protect themselves from the strong. And it is clear that Nietzsche regards slave morality as a highly undesirable system, opposed to “life” and in urgent need of replacement by master morality.
From Nietzsche we move to A. J. Ayer’s equally radical, though more calmly expressed, critique of ethics. Ayer’s position f lows from a more gen- eral philosophical position known as logical positivism, which is a theory of how statements can be meaningful. For the logical positivist, statements are meaningful only if they meet one of two conditions concerning how they can be tested, which Ayer calls the “criterion of verifiability.” The first is if they can be tested by logic; the second if they can be tested by experience.
Two moral theories could meet the criterion of verifiability, according to Ayer. These are subjectivism and utilitarianism. Subjectivism is here defined as identifying the good with what is generally desired, and utili- tarianism with what maximizes happiness. Ayer’s objection to both takes the same form: It is not contradictory to say that something is good but not desired, or good but not maximizing of happiness. Hence the good cannot be defined as subjectivists or utilitarians do.
This failure leads to the startling conclusion that statements expressing moral beliefs appear to be classified as meaningless, for there is no conceiv- able test we can use to decide a moral dispute. Rather than take this path, Ayer provides a different way of understanding moral statements as express- ing our attitudes. To say that something is good is rather like cheering for it, and to say it is bad is akin to booing it. Hence, on this view, moral judgments do not aim to be true, but rather, they express our emotions. Hence the position defended by Ayer is known as “emotivism.” And it has the further feature that any apparent moral disagreement is just that: apparent. For it is perfectly possible, and no contradiction, for two people to take opposed attitudes to the same state of affairs.
In reply to the objection that his theory makes it impossible to argue about moral questions, Ayer replies that typically moral disagreements con- cern the background matters of fact that give rise to the moral judgment, such as whether someone really did take something from a shop without paying for it. When we agree on all the facts, Ayer suggests that further moral argument is not possible and that different moral judgments simply ref lect different emotions or attitudes toward the case.
Like Ayer, J. L. Mackie wishes to argue against the view that moral stan- dards are in some sense objective. Unlike Mackie, however, he does not rest his argument on a theory of meaning. Rather, he concedes that the meaning of an ethical judgment such as “stealing is wrong” is that it states that it is an objective fact that stealing is wrong. However, Mackie wishes to convince us that all such statements are false. For they presuppose that there are objec- tive values in the world— in this case, the “wrongness” of stealing— but, he says, there are no such things as objective values. All moral judgments contain the same error of presupposing the existence of moral values. For this reason, Mackie’s view has become known as “error theory.”
Mackie presents two main arguments for his conclusion. The first is the argument from cultural relativity that we have seen in Ruth Benedict’s writing. Mackie suggests that the great cultural diversity in moral values we observe in the world is a good reason for believing that there are no objective truths about morality. The second is known as the argument from “queer- ness” (using the term in its old- fashioned sense) that if there were objective values, they would be very odd or queer, unlike anything that exists in the world. This argument has two parts. The first is metaphysical, in that it concerns what, fundamentally, exists in the world. Objective values would be very strange objects. The second part is epistemological, concerning how we can know values. If values are subjective, then it is very easy to see how we could know them, for we would have made them for ourselves. But if they are objective, how do we have the type of engagement with them that would lead to knowledge? For all these reasons, Mackie concludes that objective values do not exist and hence our ordinary moral judgments are false.
Harry Frankfurt’s journal article moves us to a different topic. He considers the thesis that people are morally responsible for their actions only if they could have acted otherwise. Frankfurt calls this thesis the “principle of alternate possibilities.” It, or something very like it, is often taken for granted in ordinary understandings of morality, for if you had no alternative to doing something, how could you be blamed (or praised) for doing it? Consider, for example, someone who acts under hypnotic suggestion or under extreme coercion. But this principle has far- reaching consequences. For if it turns out that human beings do not have free will and that all our actions are determined by factors outside our control, then human beings have no alternative to acting as we do. Then it will also turn out that we have no moral responsibility and cannot be praised or blamed for anything.
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Frankfurt sets out to cast doubt on the principle of alternate possibili- ties by imagining a case in which someone voluntarily performs an action which, had that person not chosen to perform the action, someone else would have forced the person to do. In one example, another person has taken control of my brain and could change my choices if need be. Whatever happens, I would have performed the action and hence had no alternative to doing so. But in this case, because I have voluntarily chosen to undertake the action, and no intervention was necessary, we have very little hesitation in saying that I am indeed morally responsible for the action. Frankfurt wishes …
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