PHI 208 Week 3 Discussion Question Prompts
Instructions: Please select one of the prompts from the set below and post it as an initial post in the discussion this week. Attached reading information also.
1. Think of someone real or fictional whom some people regard as a “hero” for helping others, stopping something bad or evil, and so forth, even though by doing so they violated what would normally be considered a moral rule (focus on morality; don’t simply think of someone who broke the law). For example, they may have lied, broken a promise, stolen, harmed someone innocent, or even murdered, but done so with good intentions. (Note: this last part is crucial: make sure you explain what it was that they did that would otherwise be morally questionable. Also, it need not be someone you think is a hero.)
Try to think of any example that we would either all be familiar with, or something we can easily look up (in other words, don’t just make something up or describe something generic). Many examples are given in the guidance and the readings, including people like Robin Hood, Edward Snowden, etc. Please don’t use an example that someone else has already used!
Now here’s the fun part: once you have thought of your example, evaluate what they did according to Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Is what the person did moral, or immoral, according to the CI?
Do you agree with this evaluation of the action? If you agree, how would you explain to the person in your own words why what they did was wrong? If you don’t agree, and think that what they did was morally right, how would you respond to the question, “what if everyone did that?”
When responding to your peers, consider whether they have correctly applied the Categorical Imperative, and if they agreed with Kant, consider what a consequentialist might say; if they disagreed with Kant, consider what a Kantian might say, and use those considerations as a springboard for dialogue and discussion.
2. One of Kant’s ways of formulating (i.e., expressing in words) the Categorical Imperative says that “one should always treat humanity, whether in oneself or in another, always as an end and never merely as a means”. This is often called the “Formula of Humanity” (or sometimes the “Formula of the End-In-Itself”). Briefly explain in your own words what you think Kant means by that. Consider a specific example from the world of business, either one that you have directly encountered or one you heard about, in which a company honored this principle, and consider an example in which a company failed to honor this principle. Be sure to clearly explain your example with respect to Kant’s theory, and refer to the other readings on business ethics when appropriate. If you find the example from a source on the Internet or in an article be sure to share that with your classmates. Discuss whether or not you believe that businesses could actually run according to a Kantian moral framework or if they must necessarily break Kant’s laws in order to function according to business principles.
3. Is it ever morally permissible to lie to someone? Describe a circumstance in which it seems that lying might make more people happy than telling the truth. Would lying be the right thing to do in that circumstance, or is it our moral duty to tell the truth, even then? Consider what Immanuel Kant would say, and explain that with reference to this week’s readings. Then, offer your own perspective. If you agree with Kant, consider and respond to an objection to his view. If you disagree with Kant, explain why. Discuss the positive and negative aspects of deontological theory as it relates to another of the theories you have encountered in this course.
4. Can acting out of a sense of one’s duty be the wrong thing to do? Think of an example in which someone (perhaps you) acted out of a sense of duty, even though by doing so one caused greater harm than if one had not acted, one failed to prevent harm from occurring, or one failed to bring about greater happiness. Then, explain whether you think that (a) this person was right to do that despite the negative consequences; (b) it was wrong for this person to act in this way, despite the fact that it was their moral duty to do so; or (b) this person was mistaken about what their duty really was. Be sure to back up your answer with argument and references to the text. Discuss the positive and negative aspects of deontological theory as it relates to another of the theories you have encountered in this course.
5. Kant famously states that the only thing good without qualification is a good will. On this basis, he holds that we can do the “right action” but not out of a good will, and that only actions done from a good will are morally praiseworthy. Do you agree with Kant? Provide an example (real or made up) of someone doing a good thing but out of a motive other than that of a good will, and give reasons for why you think Kant is right, or why you think Kant is wrong that this action lacks moral value. Discuss the importance of the will and how one can attempt to create a good will. If you do not think a good will is important discuss your reasons for believing that the will is not important in ethical action.
6. One of Kant’s formulations of the Categorical Imperative says that one should always treat humanity, whether in oneself or in another, always as an end and never merely as a means. Consider a specific example from the world of business, either one that you have directly encountered or one you heard about, in which a company honored this principle, and consider an example in which a company failed to honor this principle. Be sure to clearly explain your example with respect to Kant’s theory, and refer to the other readings on business ethics when appropriate. If you find the example from a source on the internet or in an article be sure to share that with your classmates. Discuss whether or not you believe that businesses could actually run according to a Kantian moral framework or if they must necessarily break Kant’s laws in order to function according to business principles.
7. Using at least one quote from chapter six of Understanding Philosophy, describe the core principle of utilitarianism and discuss the problem of the “tyranny of the majority.” Find a real example of a current or past social practice, (or create your own fictional example) that illustrates this problem. Complete your post by evaluating whether the overall good generated by the practice outweighs the suffering caused by the practice.
8. After watching the videos “Drones are Ethical” and “Drones are Not Ethical,” and taking note of the different considerations they make, identify one argument made in the videos that is clearly a utilitarian argument, and explain what makes it utilitarian. (It can be an argument for or against the use of drones).
Also identify an argument that would not be a utilitarian argument (this can also be an argument for or against the use of drones). Explain how this sort of argument differs from a utilitarian one (you do not need to identify what kind of argument it is instead, just to point out how the considerations are different than utilitarian ones).
Discuss with your peers whether the arguments they make are utilitarian or not, and the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches.
9. After watching the 9-minute Films On Demand video “Religion, War and Violence: The Ethics of War and Peace,” provide an example of a war waged on the basis of retaliation against an aggressor, and a war waged on the basis of humanitarian intervention. Discuss the differences between the ways in which these two kinds of war apply the utilitarian principle of the greatest good. Be sure to identify whose greatest good is being served in each kind of war. Complete your post by discussing which of these kinds of war is easiest to justify using utilitarian principles.
10. After watching Michael Walzer’s video on Just War Theory, explain his idea of the “moral equality of soldiers on the battlefield,” and discuss the ways in which this equality might complicate the utilitarian goal of promoting the greatest good for the greatest number.
Ashford 4: – Week 3 – Instructor Guidance
2. Kants Moral Law, Good Will and Categorical Imperative
Kant developed these ideas in his Critique of Practical Reason and The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Kant’s theory of morality is sometimes called “inconsequentialist” because it does not take into account consequences of actions, like utilitarianism, for instance. For Kant, the only good thing is a “good will.” It all has to with intentions. Even if there are negative consequences to an action, if the acting person had good intentions, they have acted morally. The Categorical Imperative lays out the rational principle upon which a moral agent may determine if their intended action is moral or not. Take any intended action. Universalize that into a universal rule or maxim that everyone follows all the time. Is the result rational or irrational? One of Kant’s extreme examples is lying. Suppose I want to lie to get some advantage for myself. I universalize that and come up with the following principle: Everyone lies all the time. I cannot support this because society would break down. There would be a breakdown in social relations, including the economy, politics, family life, etc., etc. So – if I cannot accept this as a universal rule, I cannot do it myself. Kant was so extreme that he even used the example of someone lying to protect their friend from a murderer, and determined that, according to his system, it would be immoral, even if it saved one’s friend from death! Obviously, many philosophers, especially utilitarians, cannot accept this, because “consequences count!”
3. Kantian Theory of Justice
Kant’s theory of justice is developed in his Critique of Practical Reason. If we feel we “ought” to do something, it implies that we “can” do it. So, rational beings are moral agents that can act morally or immorally by employing their free will. This also means that we are totally, morally responsible for our actions, regardless of circumstances or consequences. We also have an innate sense of justice: people that do good should be rewarded, and people that do evil (or bad) should be punished. This sense of justice is just as an important part of our “practical reason” as the apriori intuition of space and time is for “pure reason.” In other words, it is a practical, rational principle that cannot be violated. In life, however, it seems that it is violated, because our practical experience in life is that some people do good and are unrewarded, while some people do evil, and are not punished for it – at least in this life. Practical reason thereby requires us to postulate an afterlife, where justice will be determined. For justice to be determined in an afterlife, it requires that we be “immortal” and that there be a Judge who dispenses justice. We do not have our own power to become “immortal,” which means that this power is granted to us by the Eternal Judge, who rewards everyone for their good deeds and punishes everyone for their bad deeds. This judge is “God.” This is a principle of practical reason, which means that we are not claiming the existence of “God” as a metaphysical reality, but practical reason dictates that we must act as it were true!
Chapter 3 – Week 3 episteme
Epistemology = the study of knowledge. The greek word episteme means literally “to know.” So, the most fundamental question of epistemology is: how do we know what we know? The observing subject detects an object via the five sense and there are two philosophical interpretations of how knowledge arises.
subject <———————————————————————————————> object
Rationalists say that knowledge arises from human reason, while empiricists say that knowledge arises from sensory experience (the five senses). The word “con-cept” actually means “with CEPT” or “with a perCEPTion.” When reason recognizes a perception as a certain object, it names it > triangle! How much knowledge is based upon perception and how much is based upon reason? The rationalists, like Descartes, believe knowledge come from reason, while the empiricists, like John Locke, believe knowledge is empirical, coming from the 5 senses.
Rene Descartes John Locke
Some philosophers see a discrepancy between sensory experience and the outside world, and they become skeptical that we can really know anything for sure at all. They are called skeptics. The philosopher David Hume is the prime example of this kind of philosophy. For many enlightened philosophers, including David Hume and Immanuel Kant, billiards was their favorite game/sport, and they used it in many of their philosophical examples. David Hume noted that when the cue ball or another ball hits any other ball, you do not actually see any force transmitted from one ball to the other, all you see is causal sequence of one ball hitting the other, and the other ball trailing off in the opposite direction.
Let me tell you the story about this! In the first few weeks of my master’s degree program at Princeton, I was taken a course in philosophy with a professor named Diogenes Allen. Yes! His name was actually Diogenes! He was asking a question in class about Immanuel Kant and David Hume, and I responded “well, Hume denied causality…” and he stopped me dead in my tracks! He accused me of trying to make a “neighborhood play” like in a baseball game, which is pretending to tag a player out at a base in order to fool the on-field referee, even though you did not tag them out in time. He said, Hume did not deny causality, but he denied the necessary connections between causal sequences. I wanted to say, that’s what I meant, but I did not get the chance! After that, in one of Diogenes’ published books, I read the phrase “Hume denied the necessary connections between causal sequences.”
Diogenes Allen, my philosophy professor from Princeton
What he was trying to say is that we do not actually see the force of causality transitioning from one object to another and we take for granted that our experiences in the past will be the same as the future, and this is called the problem of induction. We have no rational guarantee of either of these principles! So Hume, and his followers, are called skeptics, because they are skeptical about the “reality” or the outside world, although they admittedly take it for granted in their daily affairs.
Immanuel Kant tried to reconcile the conflicting modes of philosophical thought between rationalism and empiricism, in order to avoid skepticism.
rationalism <——————————————————————–> empiricism
(knowledge comes (knowledge comes
from reason) the five senses)
Kant said that while knowledge of the world does come from sensory experience, the mind contains, as it were, the intuitions of space and time and projects them upon sensory experience and thereby orders everything into space and time, giving rise to the universe as we know it. Take the example of a movie on film. There are over 100,000 “snapshots” (still photographs) that make up a movie (20-24 per second). If the individual stills were piled randomly on the floor in a room, you could not make sense out of the chaotic mess. However, when you arrange them in space and time, you get a free-flowing movie with order and a plot, a beginning, middle and an end, a story that makes sense! That is exactly what human reason does to make sense out of our sensory experience! Kant called his theory “transcendental idealism.” Read more about it in our textbook! So you can see, Kant’s theory is actually part rationalism and part empiricism.