philosophy ethics; ethical subjectivism, cultural relativism, divine command theory, theory of natural law Flashcards

Terms Definitions
define ethical subjectivism
the view that the ultimate moral authority is considered to be the individual, the “subject”
-they determine what's right and wrong independent of the views and pressures of others
ethical subejctivism assumes a universal principle of
• We are entitled to our beliefs as long as the don’t’ infringe on the rights or interests of others
—then no longer ethical subjectivists
 Flaw
it doesn’t entail tolerance for the views or interests of others
It invests each person to determine what’s right and wrong, even if it means violating the rights or interests of others

descriptive ethics
an ethical approach that simply represents ethical beliefs w/o evaluating their accuracy or appropriateness (what is the case)

normative ethics
an ethical approach that attempts to prescribe what ethical behavior should be accepted or become cultural norms (what out to be the case)
• Every individual SHOULD have their own moral beliefs and that these beliefs are by definition MORALLY RIGHT
why are ppl drawn to ethical subj
they have a misunderstanding about the nature and logic of moral beliefs
 “you should believe this instead”
• Suggests their beliefs are confused, unfounded, illogical, or outright wrong
• You’re entitled to have w/e opinion you want about matters of taste w/o justifying your belief or providing an explaining
• But if you are advocating a moral belief, ti’s your responsibility to explain WHY you think such a belief should be adopted by others: what are the reasons, evidence, or rationale for such a belief
 Is my opinion informed by evidence and reasons
 Informed opinion: explored the subject, examined diff points of view, evaluated and supporting reasons and evidence, and synthesize your analysis into a cogent a compelling conclusion
 Opinion: “i think” “i believe”.;; ppl are allowed to think and express any opinion no matter how illogical, uninformed, or foolish
 Relativist conclusion
we should respect all moral standards equally, and allow everyone to follow their own
 The way to find out whether you can endorse a moral value or principle that seems plausible is to work out its
how do you work out implications
 You do a series of thought experiments, to find out how you would have to act in various situations if you accepted that principle, and then see whether you can accept those implications, or wheter you regard them as COUNTEREXAMPLES which show the principle to be unacceptable
• make a claim but gives different outcomes, showing claim doesn’t have foundation
 Fundamental problem: as a relativist,
you are saying that everyone’s principles should be equally respected and everyone should be free to follow their own
You are saying that certain things ought and ought not to be done: that ppl ought to respect others’ views, and not try to prevent their acting on the basis of them.
 In doing that, you yourself are not treating all views as equal, bc you are saying your own takes precedence over others.
 In making this claim about what should be done, you are doing what you say should not be done. This is what is known as PRAGMATIC SELF-REFUTATION.
In the very act of making a claim about what’s right to do, you are presupposing its falsity
 Incoherence of Relativism: Pragmatic Self Refutation
 Basic View: no view should be given precedence; do not impose your views on others
 Prob: saying all views are equal, one also says that that view takes precedence over others. In doing so, in our action, hence the term pragmatic, you are refuting what you are saying—presupposing the falsity of your claim
 Discounting and refuting own and others in doing so
 Relativeism specifies that no principle should be given precedence over others,
but in doing so gives itself precedence it says that you should not impose your principles on others, but in doing so attempts to impose itself on the holders of other views, and displace theirs.
 A general principle about not imposing your moral views on other ppl is something that makes no sense
 If you have moral views at all about how to act, those views will necessarily demand your disagreeing with the moral judgments of ppl w/ different moral views and often your actively opposing them. Excludes other actions. This is what IS to have a moral view. A
 moral view that ruled nothing out would not be a moral view at all.
 The assumption that we should never impose views on other people is a result of uncritical thinking
• Not polluting. Not letting someone kill another. There are situations in which we do.
 The point of thought experiments in philosophy is the same as the same in sci, to test hypotheses and refine them
 John Stuart Mill’s harm principle: you may interfere w/ someone’s freedom only in order to protect others from harm—basis NOT of relativism but of liberalism
• Different from relativism bc it is a positive moral principle
• Individual freedom; problem w/ the notion of freedom as license to do anything at all
• Liberals do think that anti-liberals should be prevented from acting on their views; they would not be liberals if they did not
• Most relativists find, when they settle down to working out a detailed theory of how they think people should act, that they are really some variety of liberal
• If you endorse this you are setting a general principle which is outside ethical subjectivsm
 Why are so many ppl attracted to ethical subjectivism?
 One reason is that science provides our paradigm of objectivity, and when we compare ethics to science, ethics seems to lack the features that make science so compelling.
 If there were any such thing as objective truth in ethics, we should be able to prove that some moral opinions are true and others are false (How can you prove that abortion is wrong?)
 But in fact we cannot prove which moral opinions are true and which are false
 Therefore, there is no such thing as objective truth in ethics.
 The general claim that moral judgments can’t be proved sounds right
 Test is unfair?
 Student may argue that the test covered in detail matters that were quite trivial, while ignoring matters the teacher had stressed as important
 The test also included questions about some matters that were not covered in either the readings or the class discussions
 The test was so long that not even the best students could complete it in the time allowed
 Suppose all this is true. The teacher, when asked to explain, had no defense to offer. Has the student proved that test was unfair?
 The process of giving reasons may even be taken a step further
 Jones is a bad man. Jones is an habitual liar; he manipulates people; he cheats when he thinks he can get away w/ it; he is cruel to other ppl
 Explain why lying is bad—it harms ppl.
• If i give you false info, and you rely on it, things may go wrong for you
• Violation of trust. Trusting another person means leaving oneself vulnerable and unprotected. When i trust you, i believe what you say, w/o taking precautions; when you lie you take advantage of trust
• Truthfulness is necessary for the society to exist—communication would be impossible
 1. When proof is demanded, ppl may have in mind an inappropriate standard
 They may be thinking about observations and experiments in sci; when there are no comparable observations and experiments in ethics, they may conclude there is no proof.
 Rational thinking consists in giving reasons, analyzing arguments, setting out and justifying principles
 2. When we think of “proving our ethical opinions to be correct” we tend to think automatically of the most difficult issues—abortion. Use of difficult problems.
 There are many simpler answers
 It’s easy to conflate 2 matters that are different
• 1. Proving an opinion to be correct
• 2. Persuading someone to accept your proof

Cultural groups share at least three values
 Take care of infants
 Social trust: truth telling
 Not to kill
 Why thoughtful people may nevertheless be reluctant to criticize other cultures.
 1. There is an understandable nervousness about “interfering in social customs of other peoples.” There is a difference btwn (a) judging a cultural practice to be morally deficient and (b) thinking that we should do something about it. The first is a matter of trying to see the world clearly, from a moral point of view. The second is another matter altogether. Sometimes it may be right to “do something about it” but often it will no be.
 2. People also feel that they should be tolerant of other cultures. Tolerance is a virtue—a tolerant person is willing to live in a peaceful cooperation w/ those who see things differently. There is nothing in the nature of tolerance that requires you to say that all beliefs, all religions, and all social practices are equally admirable. If you did not think that there were some better than others, there would be nothing for you to tolerate.
 3. People may be reluctant to judge bc they don’t want to express contempt for the society being criticized. To condemn a particular practice is not to say that the culture is on the whole contemptible or that it is generally inferior to any other culture, including one’s own.
 Positive aspects of CR
 Why people are reluctant to criticize other cultures
 What can be learned from CR 1. Not all differences are about morality; 2. We should keep an open mind
 Conclusion: “We can accept these points w/o going on to accept the whole theory
 Claims made by cultural relativists
 1. Different societies have different moral codes.
 2. There is no objective standard that can be used to judge one societal code better than another
 3. The moral code of our own society has no special status; it is merely one among many
 4. There is no “universal truth” in ethics; that is, there are no moral truths that hold for all peoples at all times.
 5. The moral code of a society determines what is right w/in that society; that is, if the moral code of a society says that a certain action is right, then that action is right, at least w/in that society.
 6. It is mere arrogance for us to try to judge the conduct of other peoples. We should adopt an attitude of tolerance toward the practices of other cultures.
 Variations of one fundamental idea.
 1. Different cultures have different moral codes.
 C. Therefore, there is no objective “truth” in morality. Right and wrong are only matters of opinion, and opinions vary from culture to culture.

ex 1. The Eskimos see nothing wrong with infanticide, whereas Americans believe infanticide is immoral.
 C. Therefore, infanticide is neither objectively right nor objectively wrong. It is merely a matter of opinion, which varies from culture to culture.
 Cultural Differences Argument is NOT sound.
 The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise
 Even if the premise is true, the conclusion still might be false.
 Consequences of taking CR seriously
 1. We could no longer say that the customs of other societies are morally inferior to our own.
 We would have to stop condemning other societies bc they are “different”
 We would also be stopped from criticizing other, less benign practices
 2. We could decide whether actions are right or wrong just by consulting the standards of our society.
 CR suggests a simple test of determining what is right and what is wrong: all one need do is ask whether the action is in accordance w/ the code of one’s society. (Jim Crow Laws)
 This implication of CR is disturbing bc few of us think that our society’s code is perfect; we can think of ways it might be improved.
 CR would not only forbid us from criticizing the codes of other societies; it would stop us from criticizing our own.
 3. The idea of moral progress is called into doubt.
 Usually, we think that at least some social changes are for the better. (Women rights) (slavery)
 If CR is correct, can we legitimately think of this as a progress?
• Progress means replacing a way of doing things w/ a better way. But by what standard do we judge the new ways as better? If the old ways wer ein accordance w/ the social standards of their time, then CR would say it is a mistake to judge them by the standards of a different time.
• To say that we have made progress implies a judgment that present-day society is beter, and that is just the sort of trans-cultural judgement that, acc to CR, is impermissible.
• You need a standard but you don’t have a standard outside your culture.
 The different lies elsewhere. The difference is in our belief systems, NOT in our values.
• We agree that we shouldn’t eat Grandma; we simply disagree about whether the cow is/or could be Grandma.
What can be learned from cultural relativism
 1. Cultural Relativism warns us about the danger of assuming that all our preferences are based on some absolute rational standard. They are not. Many of our practices are merely peculiar to our society, and it’s easy to lose sight of that fact.

 2. Keeping an open mind. As we grow up we acquire strong feelings. We learned to think of some types of conduct as acceptable/unacceptable.
 Natural Law Ethics contends that there are universal moral values which ppl can discover by using their rational, intellectually and emotional capabilities
 For those who believe in God, it is reasonable to assume that such moral principles are consistent w/ God’s nature, bc God is good and in creating us, God ensured that we were implanted w/ the “divine spark”, the gift of reason.
 The net effect of this view is that w/e is morally “good” exist independently of God’s commands and can be discovered by people using their gift of reason
 There have been efforts to provide a foundation for moral principles, a kind of grounding that will remove it from the grip of divine command theory
 Greeks: nature/physis and convention/nomas
 Diversity in the social fabrics of each society/culture
 Nature truths are NOT relative to each society: they are constant from culture to culture/age to age
 Rooted in the fundamental NATURE of what it means to be human
 Universal and binding on all people
 We can discover these natural moral truths through reason and reflection
 The challenge for each individual and culture: discover this immutable natural law that underlies the specific conventions of any society
 Dec of independence, “all men are created equal”
 Includes a heirarch of laws
• Eternal Law, the uncreated reason of God that guides the universe
• Divine Law, the law that directs humans to a vision of God and eternal blessedness
• Natural Law, the moral laws derived from Divine Law that humans can discover through reason
• Human Law, the legislation and custom that govern cultures
• Often por replicas of natural law.
• In ideal world: human laws would be reflections on natural law (which )
• A just law is a manmade code that squares w/ the moral law or the law of God
• Uplifts human personality
• Code that a majority compels a minority to follow and is willing to follow itself
• An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony w/ moral law
• Aquinas: human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law
• Degrades human personality
• Segregation statutes are unjesst bc it distorts the soul and damages personality, false sense of superiority
• Code that a numerical or power majority group comoples a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself; difference is made legal (right to vote)
• SUMMARYThus, if we want to know why we should be truthful, the reply “bc God commands it’ will not take us far. We may still ask “but why does God command it?’ and the answer to that question will provide the underlying reasons why truthfulnes
• 1. Suppose God commands us to do what is right. Then either (a) the right actions are right bc he commands them or (b) he commands them bc they are right
• 2. If we take option (a), then God’s commands are, from a moral point of view, arbitrary; moreover, the doctrine of the goodness of God is rendered meaningless
• 3. If we take option (b), then we have admitted there is a standard of right and wrong that is independent of God’s will.
• 4. Therefore, we must either regard God’s commands as arbitrary, and give up the doctrine of the goodness of God, or admit that there is a standard of right and wrong that is independent of his will, and give up the theological definitions of right and wrong
• 5. From a religious point of view, it is undesirable to regard God’s commands as arbitrary or to give up the doctrine of the goodness of God.
• 6. Therefore, even from a religious point of view, a standard of right and wrong that is independent of God’s will must be accepted
 The feel, that if they believe in God, they should think that right and wrong are to be defined ultimately in terms of his will.
• This argument suggests otherwise: the DCT of right and wrong leads to impious results, so that a poius person should not accpet it.
 Theory of NL has three main parts:
 1. The Theory of Natural Law rests upon a certain view of what the world is like: the world is a rational order w/ values and purpose built into its very nature (Greeks conception) Everything in nature has a purpose 2. The laws of nature not only describe how things ARE, they are how things OUT TO BE as well.
 Things are as they ought to be when they are serving their natural purposes. When they do not, or cannot, serve those purposes, things have gone wrong.
 3. Question of moral knowledge: how are we to go about determinign what is right and what is wrong?
 DCT says that we must cnsult God’s commandments.
 Theory of NL says moral judgements are “dictates of reason”
 Theory of NL is rejected for two reasons
 1. Confusion of “is” and “outght”. Facts are one thing; values are another.
 2. Gone out of fashion? Explanations made by Galileo, Newton, and Darwin make no reference to vaules or purpose.
• God has made all ppl rational, not just believers; and so, for believe and nonebleiver alike, behaving morally is a matter of listening to reason and following its directives.
• They function as moral agents in the same way, evne though the nobeliee
• Where morality is concerned, teh duty of a Christian is no different fromt eh duty of anyone else: it is to think through as carefully as possible the reasons for and against various courses of conduct, and to conform one’s conduct to the paln that seems most reasonable.
• Aquinas says: conscience is the dictate of reason. Every judgement of conscience , be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins.
 This leaves morality independent of religion.
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