University of Kansas, Spring 2004
Philosophy 160: Introduction to Ethics

Lecture notes: meta-ethics

The following notes correspond roughly to what we cover, including at least a portion of what I put on the board or the screen, in class. In places they may be more or less comprehensive than what we actually cover in class, and should not be taken as a substitute for your own observations and records of what goes on in class.

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  1. review of preface
    1. There are some fields, such as physics, in which there is a large body of material that competent theorists or practitioners all agree is right. Of course, physicists have some disagreements among one another—there is still stuff to be figured out that different physicists have conflicting opinions about—just as historians do not all agree on exactly what happened in certain times and places in the past, and just as economists do not all agree on what the best account of economic activity is. But in all of these fields, there is a lot of fairly uncontroversial material.
    2. Philosophy is not like this; in philosophy there is very little that is uncontroversial. So in this course we will be exploring many conflicting views. None of them will be presented as the “truth”; rather, for the most part, we’ll seek to understand the reasons for and against them. Ultimately, you must try to decide for yourself what views have the strongest reasons in support of them; this course is aimed at helping you to identify and to weigh those reasons.
  2. review of chapter 1
    1. overviews of sections 1.1–1.4 (skip)
      1. section 1.1: “The Problem of Definition”
        1. the idea of the minimum conception of morality: what just about everyone agrees on, as far as morality is concerned, despite whatever disagreements people may have about morality 
        2. the point of considering some specific cases: to identify some features of this “minimum conception of morality”
      2. section 1.2: “First Example: Baby Theresa”
        1. transplantation or not?
        2. for transplantation: benefits (to other babies)
        3. against transplantation: it’s “using” the baby. (But does it matter if she is “used,” if her autonomy is not violated?)
        4. against transplantation: wrongness of killing. (But is killing always wrong? And might it be claimed that the baby is already dead?)  
      3. section 1.3: “Second Example: Jodie and Mary”
        1. surgery or not?
        2. for surgery: save as many as possible
        3. against surgery: sanctity of human life
      4. section 1.4: “Third Example: Tracy Latimer”
        1. killing justified or not?
        2. in defense: quality of life
        3. against: wrongness of discriminating against the handicapped. (But is it really discrimination, or a reasonable distinction?)
        4. against: slippery slope (unverifiable predictions?)
    2. chapter goal, problem, and solution
      1. goal: to say what morality is
      2. problem: little agreement on what morality is
      3. solution: look at opposing positions on several controversies, and see what they have in common
    3. the solution implemented
      1. examination of cases of Theresa, Jodie and Mary, and Tracy Latimer
      2. two things apparently held in common by all disputants (section 1.5)
        1. the dependence of moral judgments on good reasons
          1. This is the idea that moral judgments must be backed by good reasons (in contrast to, say, judgments of taste). Mere “gut reactions” are not enough. 
          2. Good reasons can be separated from bad ones by being careful about the facts of a case, but this is not sufficient: people can agree on all the facts but still reach different moral judgments.
        2. the requirement of impartiality
          1. This is the idea that moral thinking must count everyone’s interests equally.
          2. This idea may be seen as a consequence of the dependence of moral judgments on good reasons, since there seem to be no good reasons for not counting everyone’s interests equally.
      3. slide: method of chapter 1: review
    4. section 1.6: “The Minimum Conception of Morality”
      1. These “lessons” from the three cases furnish the ingredients for a basic characterization of morality: Morality is the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual who will be affected by one’s conduct (p. 14).
      2. Note: this is not a definition, but Rachels’s view of what any reasonable theory of morality must say. Most theories of morality do say this; but there is a lot of disagreement in regard to what reasons are good ones and in regard to what impartiality really amounts to.
      3. As a result, this minimum conception of morality ends up providing very little guidance in making moral judgments. To see this, note that just about everyone on both sides of the controversies discussed in this chapter would agree with it (i.e., would agree that moral judgments must be based on reason, and must be impartial). Rachels, of course, realizes this; he isn’t touting the “minimum conception of morality” as the answer to all our moral questions. Rather, his point (indeed the point of the whole chapter) is to see whether there is some core of morality, common to partisans on opposite sides of various issues. He finds that there is such a core; but that since it is common to folks with such disparate views, it can’t be expected to settle much.
      4. worksheet: method of chapter 1
        1. C
        2. false
        3. false
        4. true
        5. true
  3. introduction to the mechanics of the course, continued: what the lectures will be like
    1. rules
      1. no food or drink (building rules)
      2. cell phones off, no noticeable newspaper-reading, no distracting sleeping
      3. general principle: if it’s distracting to me or other students, it’s a problem; if not, it’s not a problem
      4. use the best entrance/exit
    2. purposes and contents
      1. to complement other parts of the course, not to disseminate the bulk of the information
      2. to shed light on the hardest parts of the reading, not to recapitulate it evenly
      3. to talk about things that aren’t in the reading, such as writing
    3. how I prepare to lecture, and then lecture
      1. prepare my lecture notes
      2. put them on the course web site
      3. print them out
      4. come to class
      5. lecture from the notes I’ve printed out
      6. sometimes make minor corrections
    4. some consequences
      1. Sometimes the notes from which I’ll be lecturing on a given day won’t be ready (i.e., on the web site) until right before class.
      2. The notes from which I’ll be lecturing on a given day will be available as of class time and afterwards.
    5. what’s on the web site versus what I say
      1. As I indicated, I lecture from the same notes that I put on the web site. So just about everything I say in class will be associated with some part of those notes.
      2. Often, though, what I say in class on a particular topic will be more detailed than my notes are. In some cases, my notes may just contain a word or phrase that will refer to a topic that I’ll spend several minutes talking about. So the notes you take in class will end up being more detailed, in certain places, than the notes on the web.
      3. It will frequently happen that I skip certain topics that are in my notes. This is because in the past, I’ve said things in lectures that I now think do not need to be said in lectures, but that my still be useful for you to read.
  4. introduction to the concept of implication
    1. In philosophy, we talk about statements, such as “The sky is blue” or “Stealing is wrong.” Sometimes, we consider statements one by one and think about what they mean or whether they are true or false.  We might ask, for example, whether the organs of that baby named Theresa should have been used, while they were still healthy, to help other babies, or whether it was right for them to die with her.
    2. Often, though, we set aside questions of truth or falsity, at least temporarily, and we think about two or more statements with a view to figuring out how they are related to each other. One relation between statements that we are especially interested in is the relation of implication.
    3. slide: implication
    4. worksheet: implication
      1. (2:) difference between saying a statement is false and saying it is not supported by a good argument.
      2. (3:) implication even when premise and conclusion are false
    5. slide: why implication matters
  5. preview of chapter 2 (slide)
  6. review of chapter 2
    1. overview of sections 2.1–2.8 (skip)
      1. section 2.1: “How Different Cultures Have Different Moral Codes”
        1. Callatians and Greeks, Eskimos
        2. what to notice: that moral codes can vary, to a surprising extent, from one culture to the next
      2. section 2.2: “Cultural Relativism”
        1. Rachels gives six statements that relate to cultural relativism. Although he doesn’t make this explicit in this section, the second best captures the idea of cultural relativism, though cultural relativists are committed to the third and fifth ones, too.
        2. Rachels mentions that cultural relativism “challenges our ordinary belief in the objectivity and universality of moral truth” (p. 18). This is an important idea that will come up in the next chapter as well.
      3. section 2.3: “The Cultural Differences Argument”
        1. This is the main argument for cultural relativism. Its premises are (1) different cultures have different moral beliefs and (2) these differences show that there are no universally correct moral standards. (And the conclusion, of course, is the thesis of cultural relativism: there are no universally correct moral standards, but only culturally relative ones.) Note then, that the bare fact of cultural differences is only part of an argument for cultural relativism, not proof all by itself. Another premise, relating these cultural differences to morality itself, is needed.
        2. That premise was stated above as “(2) these differences show that there are no universally correct moral standards.” This is pretty much how Rachels presents it. But to make this more rigorous, and to make the underlying thought of the argument more explicit, the second premise should be stated like this: “(2) The best explanation for these differences is that there are no universally correct moral standards.”
        3. Rachels’s objection to the argument: An objection to this argument can be generated by substituting something for ‘moral beliefs’, such as ‘beliefs about whether the world is flat or round’ or ‘beliefs about arithmetic’. If people disagreed about these things, would we conclude that cultural relativism is true for these areas of thought, too? (Would the lack of some fact of the matter about these things be the best explanation of this disagreement?) Or wouldn’t we just conclude that some people make mistakes about these areas of thought? (That is, wouldn’t we just conclude that the best explanation for this disagreement is not that there is no fact of the matter, but that some people don’t have all the facts?)
      4. section 2.4: “The Consequences of Taking Cultural Relativism Seriously”
        1. If cultural relativism were true, then all of the following would be true as well:
          1. We could have no logical basis for saying that the customs of one society are morally superior to those of another.
            1. Why does this follow from cultural relativism? Because if cultural relativism is true, then there is no objective standard by which to judge various cultures. There are only the standards that obtain within each culture.
            2. Why is this problematic? Because we often want to evaluate the relative merits of various societies’ customs, and feel as if we could have some logical basis for doing so, if we thought carefully, collected all the facts, etc. But cultural relativism pronounces any such endeavor as misconceived from the start.
          2. All you need to do to see how you ought to behave is to see what your own culture says about how you ought to behave; and you cannot (logically) make any moral criticism of your own culture’s norms or practices.
            1. Why does this follow from cultural relativism? Because if cultural relativism is true, then the only available standard is a culturally relative one: that of one’s own culture. Thus your moral obligations are entirely and conclusively specified by your culture’s practices; and it would make no sense to say, “Some of our culture’s practices are immoral,” since this would (if cultural relativism were true) be equivalent to “Some of our culture’s practices are not allowed by our culture’s norms”—and it is hard to see how one could logically say this.
            2. Why is this problematic? Two reasons. First, we do not think that ascertaining what we ought to do is as easy as just seeing what our culture says we ought to do; rather, we think it’s harder, and involves critical reflection on the norms of our own culture (instead of just taking them for granted). Second, we often think that there must be a way to “step outside” of one’s own culture and evaluate it from an objective standpoint. But, as before, cultural relativism pronounces such an endeavor as misconceived.
          3. Moral progress never occurs.
            1. Why does this follow from cultural relativism? Because the very idea of moral progress involves (it seems) comparing two cultures, or one culture at two different times (which we’ll regard as two different cultures), and judging one to be better than the other. But if (as cultural relativism maintains) there is no standpoint outside of a given culture for judging its norms and practices, then there is no standpoint for making such a cross-cultural comparison. (Notice that cultural relativism does not, then, deny that what we regard as moral progress has actually taken place; it just denies that such events can logically be labeled “progress,” or with any term of praise or condemnation.)
            2. Why is this problematic? Because we are inclined to regard certain changes as constituting progress, and others as regressions, and still others as morally neutral changes. But, again, cultural relativism says there is no logical room for such evaluations, no standpoint from which they can be made.
        2. The fact that cultural relativism has these problematic implications suggests that it clashes with several intuitions we have about the kinds of moral judgments it’s possible to make and what it takes to make them. This may be a reason to reject it (or it may be a reason to reject all of the intuitions it clashes with).
      5. section 2.5: “Why There Is Less Disagreement Than It Seems”
        1. Customs and norms result from both values and factual beliefs. Sometimes, a difference in norms can appear to indicate a difference in values, but actually reflects only a difference in factual beliefs.
        2. To see the relevance of this to cultural relativism, recall that the cultural differences argument begins with the premise that different cultures have different moral beliefs. If this apparent difference in moral beliefs comes to seem doubtful or less extensive than it seemed at first, then a premise of the cultural differences argument will be weakened.
      6. section 2.6: “How All Cultures Have Some Values in Common”
        1. Cultures cannot persist without certain kinds of behavior being prevalent, such as caring for infants, respecting persons’ lives, and telling the truth. So, almost as a matter of anthropological fact, there are certain limits to how much practices can vary from one culture to another.
        2. The relevance of this to cultural relativism is roughly the same as before: since the cultural differences argument begins with the premise that different cultures have different moral beliefs, limits on how varied cultures’ moral beliefs can be have the effect of limiting the support for cultural relativism.
      7. section 2.7: “Judging a Cultural Practice to be Undesirable”
        1. Rachels describes a girl fleeing her society because of its practice of excision. This case can be used to explore your intuitions about cultural relativism. Suppose you knew this girl and were advising her. Would you tell her that the practice is right, because it’s an integral part of the culture? Or would you evaluate the practice by some standard that is independent of the culture of which it is a part?
        2. Rachels proposes that the practice can be evaluated without resorting to a culture-neutral standard of right and wrong, by appealing to a standard having to do with promoting or hindering the welfare of the everyone affected. The important thing to appreciate here is not the specific content of the standard Rachels proposes, but his continuation of the considerations of sections 2.5 and 2.6: here, the thought that our disagreement with societies that practice excision is not only or entirely a disagreement in values, but a disagreement in beliefs about matters of fact (specifically, how the practice affects individuals’ welfare).
        3. Judging a cultural practice to be undesirable should not be confused with (1) thinking that we should intervene, such as in diplomatic or military ways, in order to get the practice stopped, (2) refusing to be tolerant towards practices we regard as undesirable, or (3) judging the entire culture of which it is a part to be a bad culture. So, one can reject cultural relativism without being committed to intervention, intolerance, or judging an entire culture negatively.
      8. section 2.8: “What Can Be Learned from Cultural Relativism”
        1. Rachels distills two lessons from the considerations surrounding cultural relativism.
          1. Not all our preferences, or even all the moral judgments we take very seriously, are based on an absolute rational standard. Many of them—perhaps most of them—may be based on accidental features of our culture. (Where cultural relativism goes wrong is in assuming that all of them are like this.)
          2. It is necessary to keep an open mind about moral questions, and be willing to reconsider our moral beliefs.
        2. Note that neither of these “lessons” of cultural relativism requires us to subscribe to cultural relativism itself—Rachels’s point is that one can reject cultural relativism while still profiting from the above “lessons.”
    2. four big questions
      1. What, exactly, is cultural relativism?
      2. Are there good arguments for cultural relativism?
      3. Does cultural relativism have objectionable implications?
      4. Is it possible to endorse many of the laudable motivations behind cultural relativism while rejecting cultural relativism itself?
    3. defining cultural relativism
      1. the need to specify some statement that cultural relativists can be assumed to endorse
      2. the difficulty of talking about “the idea of cultural relativism” without some particular statement or it (just as it would be difficult to talk about liberalism or conservatism or whatever without some particular statement of it)
      3. not just that moral beliefs vary from one culture to another—rather, that moral truth varies from one culture to another
      4. cultural relativism (CR):
        1. Moral truth is culturally relative, or culture-specific.
        2. There is no universal, or even trans-cultural, standard of right and wrong.
        3. If two or more cultures have the same moral beliefs, that is just an anthropological coincidence, not a consequence of both cultures’ being right (or wrong) about morality.
    4. objections to the cultural-differences argument
      1. the argument
        1. (P:) Different cultures have different moral beliefs.
        2. (C:) Morality is culturally relative.
      2. Here the premise is meant to imply the conclusion. (Recall the section on implication, above.)
      3. the strategy of objecting by presenting parallel arguments
        1. A common strategy for showing an argument to be unsound is to keep the same form, but replace some of its terms with other terms.
        2. If the resulting argument is unsound, then the original one might be, too.
      4. first parallel example: shift from morality to geography
        1. (P:) Different cultures have different beliefs about geography.
        2. (C:) Geography is culturally relative.
      5. comments on this argument
        1. This is not meant to be a good argument. On the contrary, it is meant to be an obviously bad argument.
        2. It is meant to make you think, “Well, that’s obviously a very bad argument, and it’s pretty similar to the cultural-differences argument, so the cultural-differences argument might be bad, too.”
      6. second parallel argument: shift from cultures to individuals
        1. (P:) Different individuals have different moral beliefs.
        2. (C:) Morality is individually relative.
      7. comments on this argument
        1. This is not meant to be a good argument, either. An objector to cultural relativism would be happy for you to think it’s a bad argument, and to think that the cultural-differences is probably a bad argument, too.
        2. An objector to cultural relativism would also be happy for you to think the argument for individual relativism is a good one. For then you would believe something that is in conflict with cultural relativism—namely, that morality is individually relative rather than culturally relative—and so you wouldn’t believe cultural relativism.
        3. Another way of interpreting this argument is to see it as a challenge from an objector to a defender of cultural relativist. The objector is saying, in effect, “Well, if cultural variations among moral beliefs cause you to endorse cultural relativism, why don’t individual variations among moral beliefs cause you to endorse individual relativism? Why stop at cultural relativism, when you can go all the way to individual relativism?”
      8. comments on the strategy of objecting to a principle (such as cultural relativism) by objecting to an argument for it (such as the cultural-differences argument)
        1. pro: It is often not very hard to show that a particular argument is invalid.
        2. con: Showing that an argument is invalid does not show that its conclusion is false. It just shows that it is unsupported by what some people might have regarded as a valid argument for it.
    5. alleged objectionable implications of cultural relativism
      1. the strategy of objecting by presenting problematic implications
        1. A common strategy for showing a principle to be untrue is to show that it implies, or entails, untrue things.
        2. In other words, this strategy involves showing that other statements, which are widely regarded as untrue, would be true if the principle in question were true.
      2. the three problematic implications
        1. We could have no logical basis for saying that the customs of one society are morally superior to those of another.
        2. All you need to do to see how you ought to behave is to see what your own culture says about how you ought to behave; and you cannot (logically) make any moral criticism of your own culture’s norms or practices.
        3. Moral progress never occurs.
      3. comments on the strategy of objecting to a principle by saddling it with problematic implications
        1. pro: If the problematic implications are really false, then so is the principle in question. It’s a fatal objection.
        2. con: Showing the problematic implications to be false is often hard. It’s always open to the defender of the principle in question to say, “The implications you’ve drawn from my principle are not false.” For example, a cultural relativist could gleefully say, “Sure, I accept the three implications you mentioned. Those are statements I’m willing to accept—costs I’m willing to pay—in order to be a cultural relativist!”
    6. endorsing motivations behind cultural relativism without endorsing cultural relativism itself
      1. motivations: tolerance, open-mindedness
      2. Rachels’s claim: CR may imply these, but these do not imply CR. So, you can accept these while not going so far as to accept CR.
    7. worksheet: “Cultural Relativism: Its Inferential Relations”
      1. B
      2. C
      3. D
      4. D
      5. A
      6. C
      7. B (arguably A, too)
      8. C
      9. C
      10. D
      11. C
      12. D
      13. D
      14. D
  7. review of papers on cultural relativism
    1. first sample paper: “Cultural Relativism”
      1. biggest problem
        1. too little space devoted to main point—the author’s attack on Rachels’s objection to the cultural-differences argument
        2. mentioned at the end of the first paragraph, but then not again until paragraph going from p. 3 to p. 4
        3. too many other topics covered
        4. slide: “Sample Paper 1”
      2. second-biggest problem
        1. confusing reader about main point of paper
        2. first paragraph ends by attacking Rachels’s objection to the cultural-differences argument
        3. second paragraph ends by saying that cultural relativism is illogical
    2. second sample paper: “The Cultural Differences Argument and Geography: Is This a Relevant Comparison?”
      1. good qualities
        1. last two sentences of first paragraph clearly indicate main points of paper
        2. second paragraph explains cultural relativism
        3. third paragraph explains cultural-differences argument
        4. fourth paragraph explains Rachels’s objection to the cultural-differences argument
        5. next thee paragraphs develop author’s rebuttal to Rachels’s objection
        6. next paragraph anticipates objection
        7. next paragraph responds
        8. final paragraph concludes
      2. further remarks
        1. no need to have exactly three supporting considerations
        2. author’s response to anticipated objection (in next-to-last paragraph) is not very clear
    3. possible topics for this assignment
      1. arguing against Rachels’s objections to the cultural-differences argument
      2. arguing against Rachels’s claim that cultural relativism precludes our regarding any other society’s customs as inferior to ours
      3. arguing against Rachels’s claim that cultural relativism precludes criticism of one’s own culture
      4. arguing against Rachels’s claim that cultural relativism denies that moral progress ever occurs.
  8. introduction to the concept of compatibility
    1. Recall what I said in my introduction to the concept of implication: in philosophy, sometimes we consider statements one by one and think about what they mean or whether they are true or false. Often, though, we set aside questions of truth or falsity, at least temporarily, and we think about two or more statements with a view to figuring out how they are related to each other. One relation between statements that we are especially interested in is the relation of implication. Another is the relation of compatibility.
    2. slide: “Compatibility”
    3. slide: “Compatibility and Implication”
    4. Venn diagram
      1. dichotomy: (1) statements that are compatible with X and (2) statements that are not compatible with X
      2. (3) statements that are implications of X: a subset of 1
      3. statements that imply X: a subset of 1, overlapping with 3
    5. worksheet: “Compatibility”
  9. preview of chapter 3 (slide)
  10. review of chapter 3
    1. overview of sections 3.1–3.2 (skip)
      1. section 3.1: “The Basic Idea of Ethical Subjectivism”
        1. The basic idea of ethical subjectivism is that our moral opinions are based on our feelings, and on nothing more. In other words, it is the view that moral judgments do not reflect facts about the world, but reflect only our feelings about facts about the world.
        2. The feelings that we have about various issues, and the moral opinions that result, may be based on some view of the facts of a given situation, but (according to a subjectivist) there are no moral facts for our moral opinions to match up with or get wrong.
        3. Like cultural relativism, this not a theory of what’s right and what’s wrong; rather, it’s a meta-ethical theory: an account of the nature of morality. Cultural relativism says morality is relative to each culture; subjectivism goes further and says that it’s relative to each individual.
        4. So stated, the theory is rather vague. Beginning in section 3.3, we’ll consider two versions of subjectivism.
      2. section 3.2: “The Evolution of the Theory”
        1. The two versions of subjectivism we’ll consider come in a certain order.
        2. One of them was proposed first, but then objections to it led certain philosophers, sympathetic to subjectivism but aware of the difficulties with the first version, to propose another one.
      3. structure of three theories (Venn diagram)
    2. overview of section 3.3: “The First Stage: Simple Subjectivism” (skip)
      1. According to simple subjectivism, when a person makes a moral judgment, he or she is stating or reporting his or her feelings of approval and disapproval. For example, “X is good” means something like “I approve of X.”
      2. One objection to this view is that it makes making correct moral judgments look like a much easier endeavor than we ordinarily believe it to be. For if (1) “X is good” means nothing more than (2) “I approve of X,” then one can make a correct moral judgment (such as statement 1) as easily as one can make a correct report of one’s feelings (such as statement 2). But we tend to think that it’s much harder, and requires much more thought, to come up with correct moral judgments than it is to come up with correct reports of one’s feelings. As a result, simple subjectivism ends up giving an account of moral judgment that is at odds with something we think we know about what it takes to make a correct moral judgment. (Rachels puts this in terms of infallibility, but I find this term a little misleading.)
      3. A second objection to this view is that it denies that moral disagreement is present in many circumstances in which we would think, intuitively, that it is present. For example, if Falwell says (1) “Homosexuality is immoral” and Foreman says (2) “Homosexuality is not immoral,” then we would take them to be disagreeing: we would take them to be saying things that can’t both be true at once. But according to simple subjectivism, what Falwell is saying has the same meaning as (3) “I [Falwell] disapprove of homosexuality” and what Foreman is saying has the same meaning as (4) “I [Foreman] do not disapprove of homosexuality.” And statements 3 and 4 can both be true at once! So simple subjectivism implies that two statements we regard as not capable of both being true at once (1 and 2) actually mean the same things as two statements that can both be true at once (3 and 4). (For clarification: What does Rachels mean when he says “changing the subject” (p. 36.3)?)
      4. A third objection to this view, one not mentioned by Rachels, is that simple subjectivism not only fails to account for moral disagreement, but also (and in precisely the same way) fails to account for moral agreement.
    3. the basic idea of simple subjectivism
      1. Simple subjectivism is the view that statements of the form “X is good” mean things like “I approve of X.”
      2. Simple subjectivism gives us, in effect, a translation rule: it says that when someone makes a positive moral judgment, then you can “translate” that into a report of feelings of approval on the part of the person, and likewise for a negative moral judgment.
      3. simple subjectivism
        1. “X is good/right” = “I approve of X”
        2. “X is bad/wrong” = “I disapprove of X”
      4. Such a translation rule, if defensible, would be a great achievement in meta-ethics, since it would enable us to translate moral judgments into mere statements of fact (i.e., reports of the speaker’s states of mind).
    4. the two problems with simple subjectivism
      1. first problem: implying that moral judgments are a lot easier to make than, in fact, they are
      2. table
        1. first row: statement; hard to know whether true or false?
        2. second row: “Abortion is wrong”; yes
        3. second row: “I disapprove of abortion”; no
      3. second problem: failing to account for moral disagreement
      4. table
        1. first row: statements; compatible?
        2. second row: “Prostitution is wrong,” said by Smith; “Prostitution is not wrong,” said by Jones; no
        3. third row: SS’s translation; “I disapprove of prostitution,” said by Smith; “I do not disapprove of prostitution,” said by Jones; yes
      5. an argument showing the problem
        1. Suppose Falwell says (A) “Homosexuality is immoral” and Foreman says (B) “Homosexuality is not immoral.”
        2. Then they are clearly saying two things that cannot both be true at the same time. They are, in a word, disagreeing.
        3. Now how does simple subjectivism tell us to understand Falwell’s statement and Foreman’s statement?
          1. Remember that simple subjectivism says that when someone makes a positive moral judgment, you can translate that into a report of feelings of approval on the part of the person.
          2. So simple subjectivism tells us that what Falwell said means (C) “I disapprove of homosexuality” and that what Foreman said means (D) “I do not disapprove of homosexuality.”
        4. Now let’s look at the two statements that simple subjectivism says we can regard as accurate “translations” of the original moral judgments. In particular, let’s see whether they can both be true at the same time.
          1. The first is Falwell’s statement (C) “I disapprove of homosexuality.”
          2. The second of Foreman’s statement (D) “I do not disapprove of homosexuality.”
          3. Clearly these can both be true at the same time: it can be true that Falwell disapproves of homosexuality while Foreman does not disapprove of it.
        5. But now the problem for simple subjectivism has come into view.
          1. As a result of saying that C and D have the same meaning as A and B, simple subjectivism fails to account for the disagreement that is taking place between Falwell and Foreman.
          2. It does this by portraying them as saying two things that can both be true at the same time—statements C and D—when we have just seen that their original statements—A and B—cannot both be true at the same time.
    5. overview of sections 3.4–3.6 (skip)
      1. section 3.4: “The Second Stage: Emotivism”
        1. In response to the difficulties with simple subjectivism, another, more sophisticated, version of subjectivism, one known as emotivism, has been proposed. According to emotivism, when a person makes a moral judgment, he or she is expressing his or her feelings of approval and disapproval. For example, “X is good” means something like “Yay, X!”
        2. The difference between simple subjectivism and emotivism depends on the difference between stating or reporting something and expressing it. Unlike statements or reports of attitudes, expressions of attitudes are neither true nor false, neither correct nor incorrect.
        3. This subtle difference between simple subjectivism and emotivism enables the latter to avoid being vulnerable to the two objections to the former we considered earlier:
          1. The first objection was that simple subjectivism makes making correct moral judgments look a lot easier than we believe it to be. But emotivism avoids this implication, by denying that moral judgments can be correct or incorrect at all.
          2. The second objection was that simple subjectivism fails to regard, as disagreement, two people whom we, intuitively, would regard as disagreeing. Emotivism accounts for this disagreement by distinguishing between (1) disagreement about facts and (2) disagreement in attitude, and by regarding moral disagreement as disagreement of the second kind.
      2. section 3.5: “Are There Any Moral Facts?”
        1. According to emotivism, any consideration that influences someone’s attitudes counts as a reason. But this admits, into the class of things regarded as reasons for moral judgments, many things that we intuitively would not think should count as reasons. So emotivism seems to offer an inadequate account of the connection between reason and moral judgment.
        2. As a middle ground between any subjectivist view and the view that there are moral facts that are just like “facts about stars and planets,” Rachels proposes that we regard a moral judgment as true if it is supported by the strongest reasons.
      3. section 3.6: “Are There Proofs in Ethics?”
        1. Subjectivist views may seem appealing because we seem to have much more trouble finding convincing proofs for ethical truths than for truths in other fields, such as the sciences. This suggests to many people that there are no proofs in ethics.
        2. But what about the “proofs” of “ethical truths” that Rachels offers? Are these proofs, or could one accept their premises and reach different conclusions?
        3. The thought that ethical truths can be proved becomes easier to accept when one
          1. stops holding proofs in ethics to an overly demanding standard
          2. observes that although there are many contentious ethical issues on which people persistently disagree, there are also many on which there is wide agreement
          3. distinguishes proof from persuasion, and does not mistake the absence of the latter for the absence of the former
    6. emotivism
      1. Moral judgments are expressions of feelings, not statements or descriptions of them.
      2. Thus, moral judgments as neither true nor false
    7. the biggest problem with emotivism
      1. implies that moral judgments can’t be given logical support—that anything that gets someone to believe a moral judgment is as much of a reason in support of that moral judgment as anything else is
      2. this due to emotivism’s regarding moral judgments as neither true nor false
  11. deriving morality from nature
    1. overview of section 3.7, to top of p. 46, and section 4.3 (skip)
      1. section 3.7: “The Question of Homosexuality,” through the first full paragraph on p. 46
        1. Rachels presents a set of considerations in defense of his view that homosexuality is not immoral.
        2. He also considers the claim that homosexuality is unnatural. To assess this claim, he distinguishes three senses of the word ‘unnatural’, each of which may figure in a claim made about homosexuality.
          1. ‘unnatural’ as statistically uncommon, or rare
          2. ‘unnatural’ as not in accordance with (natural) function
          3. ‘unnatural’ as wrong
        3. It is important to see that Rachels’s main purpose in this passage is not to convince us that homosexuality is not unnatural—though he does believe this—but to show the futility of using the notions of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ to establish moral conclusions.
      2. section 4.3: “The Theory of Natural Law”
        1. This theory is a particularly sophisticated way of trying to derive morality from nature.
        2. main components of the theory
          1. The first component is a theory of what the world is like. According to this theory, the world has values and purposes built into it. For example, animals are resources for humans, plants are food for animals (and also humans), and rain falls for the sake of plants (and animals and humans, presumably). This theory is, of course, completely incompatible with the modern scientific worldview of everything in nature as just there, with no scheme or plan built into it; and this incompatibility between this component of natural-law theory and the modern scientific worldview makes many people skeptical of this component of natural-law theory.
          2. The second component of the theory of natural law is the thought that the purposes things serve are the purposes they ought to serve; and that any deviation from these purposes is bad. This sort of thinking has been taken to lead to such conclusions as (1) people ought to be helpful to one another, because it’s clear from the way humans are designed that they were meant to live cooperatively and (2) people ought not to have non-procreative sex, because the true, legitimate purpose of sex is procreation. The leading objection to this component of natural-law theory is that it seems not to have adequate reason for its claims of how things ought to be just on the basis of its observations of how things are. (Rachels mentions that a second objection rests on the incompatibility of natural-law theory with the modern scientific worldview, but I think this makes more sense as an objection to the first component of the view, as noted above.)
          3. The third component of the theory of natural law has to do with how we know what’s right and wrong. It is the claim that we know what’s right and wrong through the exercise of our reason: that God has endowed each of us with the capacity to detect what’s right and wrong, and to act accordingly.
    2. There is a standard form of argument that is generally applicable to attempts to derive morality from nature.
      1. the standard form of an argument attempting to derive morality from nature:
        1. X is unnatural
        2. Anything unnatural is wrong.
        3. X is wrong.
      2. (X could be homosexuality, or abortion, or equal rights for women and men, or whatever.)
    3. four requirements such an argument must satisfy:
      1. Premise 1 must be true.
      2. Premise 2 must be true.
      3. The premises must imply the conclusion.
      4. The argument must not be question-begging.
    4. begging the question
      1. assuming, as a premise, what you are trying to prove
      2. also known as circularly reasoning
  12. simple subjectivism and emotivism
    1. forms of subjectivism
      1. Subjectivism is the view that moral judgments are based on our feelings, and on nothing more. Subjectivists reject the view that morality is objective—that the correctness of a moral judgment does not depend on the feelings of the person making it.
      2. subjectivism: the view that moral judgments are essentially reflections of feelings
      3. It is a meta-ethical view, not a normative-ethical one: it tells us what is going on when moral judgments are being made, rather than telling us what moral judgments to make.
      4. We are looking at two forms of subjectivism: simple subjectivism and emotivism.
    2. simple subjectivism vs. emotivism
      1. Simple subjectivism says that a moral judgment has the same meaning as a statement about the speaker’s feelings. So, simple subjectivism says that moral judgments can be true (or false), as long as the equivalent statement about the speaker’s feelings is true (or false).
      2. simple subjectivism: the view that moral judgments are descriptions of feelings (“Honesty is good” = “I approve of honesty”).
      3. Emotivism says that moral judgments are to be understood not as descriptions of feelings, but as expressions of them. This is like the difference between “I like this” and “All right!”
      4. emotivism: the view that moral judgments are expressions of feelings (“Honesty is good” = “Honesty, yay!”)
      5. Here’s the essential difference between simple subjectivism and emotivism. The former says that moral judgments can be true or false (just as statements such as “I like this” can be true or false) and the latter says that moral judgments cannot be true or false (anymore than “All right!” can).
      6. Can moral judgments be true or false?
        1. simple subjectivism: yes (because descriptions of feelings can be true or false)
        2. emotivism: no (because expressions of feelings are neither true nor false)
    3. worksheet: simple subjectivism vs. emotivism
  13. emotivism
    1. what emotivism says
      1. Moral judgments are neither true nor false.
      2. A moral judgment is an expression of the speaker’s feelings, not a description of them.
      3. So, a moral judgment such as ‘Honesty is good’ should be translated as something like, ‘Honesty, yay!’
    2. So, emotivism
      1. is a theory in meta-ethics, not normative ethics or applied ethics
      2. is a subjectivist theory, because it says that a moral judgment is merely a reflection of the speaker’s feelings
      3. conflicts with simple subjectivism, because it denies that moral judgments are descriptions of speakers’ feelings
    3. emotivism’s translation rule
      1. Why are the translations so awkward? Do emotivists argue by saying things like, “Higher sales taxes, yay!” and “Higher sales taxes, boo!”? If that is how they translate moral judgments, how do they carry on a conversation?
      2. The translations are so awkward because almost everything we say is said in the form of a statement that has a subject-verb structure. if you want to get away from that, you inevitably get into awkward constructions.
      3. They still use sentences like, “We should have higher sales taxes to have more money for schools” and “We should not have higher sales taxes to have more money for schools.”
      4. They do not mean that we should stop using that sort of language; they just think that we should not fall under the illusion that moral judgments are the sorts of things that can be true or false.
      5. What does it take for a moral judgment not to be an expression of feelings?
      6. According to emotivism, nothing can accomplish that. Any utterance using moral language, like ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘immoral’ or ‘ought’ or whatever is just an expression of feelings.
    4. considerations in support of emotivism
      1. Why would anyone believe in emotivism? Is it implied by something true?
      2. Emotivists can’t get over the fact that no matter how much progress there is in science and culture, there remains a lot of moral disagreement. They think that the persistence of moral disagreement indicates that there’s something different going on when people talk about morality—that they’re not talking about something about which it’s possible to be correct or incorrect. Emotivists say that if you look at morality in the way they suggest, then the persistence of moral disagreement becomes a lot less mysterious.
      3. So, emotivists say that you can look at morality in either of two ways. First, there is the traditional way of ethical objectivism: moral judgments can be true or false, and if people disagree it must be because one of them is confused or something. If you look at moral judgments this way, then the persistence of moral disagreement over thousands of years looks rather puzzling: why can’t people finally get it right?
      4. Second, there is the emotivist way. You just admit that when it comes to morality, there is nothing to be correct or incorrect about. And since moral judgments are just expressions of feelings, it should not be surprising that they often conflict, since people’s feelings often conflict.
      5. So what emotivism gets you is a view of morality that makes it less mysterious why there always has been, and continues to be, so much moral disagreement.
    5. the function of moral judgment
      1. So what’s the point of moral judgments, according to emotivists, if they are neither true nor false? Should we just stop making moral judgments?
      2. Emotivists are not advocating that we get rid of moral judgments. They think that they serve a valuable purpose in helping us influence each other and reach agreements on what to do and coordinate our behaviors and so forth. They just think that we should recognize that when we use moral judgments, we’re just trying to influence others’ feelings. We’re not saying things that are true or false, correct or incorrect.
      3. They think that moral words such as ‘wrong’ have an emotive meaning that makes them suitable for this purpose.
      4. They just think that we should not think they’re correct or incorrect.
    6. the role of emotivism in real life
      1. If you’re an emotivist, you don’t believe that there are right and wrong answers. You think there are just different opinions.
      2. You might think that some attitudes are hard-hearted, or selfish, or whatever, but you don’t feel entitled to say that the person holding them is incorrect in some logical or factual way.
    7. the status of emotivism
      1. Do emotivists think that their own theory is neither correct nor incorrect?
      2. No, emotivists think that emotivism is true.
      3. It’s moral judgments—things in normative ethics and applied ethics—that they think are true or false. They think that meta-ethical theories, such as their own, are capable of being true or false.
    8. emotivism and moral questions
      1. Why do emotivists think about honesty, etc.?
      2. Emotivists don't take a stand on questions of normative ethics or applied ethics. An emotivist can say that honesty is good and another one could say that honesty is bad.
    9. main objection to emotivism (q. 8 on quiz)
    10. Where did emotivism originate?
      1. Emotivism is in the tradition of subjectivist theories (Hobbes and Hume).
      2. Early subjectivist theories closely resembled simple subjectivism and had the problems we identified in it.
      3. In the early part of the twentieth century, emotivism was developed.
      4. Charles Stevenson became its most prominent advocate. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan for most of his career and wrote many papers, and a book, advocating emotivism as the right way to understand what is going on when people make moral judgments.
      5. Nowadays, emotivism and closely related theories remain a prominent part of meta-ethics. There are many philosophers who do meta-ethics, and a substantial fraction of them think that the main idea of emotivism is basically correct.
  14. Stevenson writing assignment
  15. Stevenson, “The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms”
    1. section I (aim: to describe Stevenson’s goal, and to refute one attempt at achieving that goal)
      1. p. 14.5: Notice the aim of translating ethical questions into clearer, less mysterious questions, or of providing definitions of ethical terms. Notice also how clearly Stevenson presents the aim of his paper—he does not leave the reader wondering what he’s going to do, or clueless as to what she should watch out for as the paper proceeds.
      2. p. 15.2: a criterion of adequacy that must be met in order for a definition to be “relevant”
      3. p. 15.4: very clear transition to next tasks (of considering definitions of ‘good’ and then providing one)
      4. p. 15.5: two proposals (both being interest theories, or theories having to do with persons’ interests—interests in the sense of desires, of course, not in the sense of things about which one is curious)
        1. good = desired by me
        2. good = approved by most people (but ignore Stevenson’s attribution of this view to Hume)
      5. p. 16.3: three things we know about the word ‘good’ that disqualify at least some interest theories
        1. when moral disagreement is happening (recall Rachels’s second objection to simple subjectivism)
        2. the ‘magnetism’ of whatever is good
        3. not scientifically verifiable (recall Rachels’s first objection to simple subjectivism)
      6. p. 18.4: helpful summary of preceding claims
      7. worksheet: Stevenson’s three criteria
        1. N, Y, N
        2. Y, N, N
        3. Y, N, N
        4. Y, N, Y
        5. Y, N, N
        6. N, Y, N
    2. section II (aim: to describe Stevenson’s understanding of ethical terms)
      1. p. 18.5: “vary from tradition”—philosophers are often concerned about showing how their views differ from what’s come before, lest their own views seem uninteresting
      2. p. 18.7: reference to traditional interest theories’ descriptive orientation
      3. p. 18.9: a new approach to the connection between ethical statements and interests
      4. p. 19.4: reasons simply as means of facilitating influence
      5. p. 19.5: desert simile
      6. pp. 19.9–20.2: statement of what Stevenson is currently doing
      7. p. 20.3: ethical terms as instruments
      8. p. 20.9: information about upcoming topics
    3. section III (aim: to explain the notion of emotive meaning, in order to explain how words can influence people)
      1. p. 21.3: descriptive use vs. dynamic use
      2. p. 22.3: very clear transition to the topic of meaning
      3. p. 22.4: identifying a word’s meaning with the psychological effects it tends to have (not all the effects it ever has)
      4. p. 23.2: emotive meaning—tendency to produce an affective response; contributes to dynamic use
      5. p. 23.4: very clear transition to the topic of the connection between dynamic use and emotive meaning
      6. p. 24.2: reason for including emotive meaning in definitions
    4. section IV (aim: to clarify ‘good’ by appealing to emotive meaning)
      1. p. 24.3: helpful statement of next task
      2. p. 24.4: starting with “an inaccurate approximation”—sometimes useful in explanations
      3. p. 24.4: ‘This is good’ is sort of like ‘We like this’, used dynamically.
      4. p. 25.4–5: But this is not really a satisfactory definition.
      5. p. 25.6: the pleasing emotive meaning of the word ‘good’
      6. p. 25.8: the impossibility of finding a helpful synonym
      7. p. 26.4: claim of success in “clarifying” the word’s meaning
    5. section V (aim: to defend understanding ‘good’ in terms of emotive meaning)
      1. review of the requirements from section I
        1. first requirement: accurately reflect when moral disagreement is happening
          1. p. 27.1: disagreement in belief vs. disagreement in interest
          2. p. 27.5: the problem with previous “interest theories” (such as simple subjectivism)
        2. p. 27.8: second requirement: “magnetism” of ‘good’
        3. p. 28.2: third requirement: not scientifically verifiable
      2. further explanation of Stevenson’s view
        1. p. 28.2: A crucial part of Stevenson’s view is that that no matter how much agreement there may be on facts, ethical judgments will not necessarily coincide.
        2. p. 29.2: very illuminating analogy between imperatives and ethical judgments
        3. p. 29.4: example of agreement about facts, but disagreement in attitude
        4. p. 29.6–9: no rational method for settling ethical disagreement! It's all just persuasion!
        5. p. 30.3–4: helpful summary of main claims in this rich section
    6. section VI (aim: to rebut the objection that something is missing)
      1. p. 30.8: the main concern: that emotive meaning and suggestion don’t add up to “moral truth”
      2. p. 30.9: Stevenson’s reply: that this “moral truth” is extremely mysterious
  16. a review of emotivism
    1. the main attraction of emotivism
      1. It explains why moral disagreement is so much harder to resolve than, say, scientific disagreement.
      2. Scientific disagreement tends to be resolved as people converge on the facts.
      3. If there are no moral facts (as emotivists say), then there is nothing for moral judgments to converge on. They’ll remain as disparate as people’s goals and desires are.
    2. implications of emotivism
      1. You cannot derive morality from nature: no facts about the natural world—however ‘nature’ is defined—can ever be sufficient to establish that any particular moral judgment is correct or incorrect. This, of course, follows from the fact that moral judgments cannot be correct or incorrect to begin with.
      2. You cannot derive an ’ought’ statement from an ‘is’ statement (or several ‘is’ statements): there is no valid argument, with premises consisting entirely of descriptive statements, whose conclusion is a moral judgment. If two people agree on all the facts (descriptive statements), and reach opposing moral judgments, it needn’t be the case that at least one of them is making some kind of mistake. On the contrary, each could just be expressing the feelings he or she has about the topic under discussion.
    3. the big objection and emotivists’ reply
      1. The biggest problem with emotivism is that by interpreting moral judgments as neither true nor false, it is unable to explain how moral judgments can be backed by reasons any more than things like “All right!” can be backed by reasons.
      2. Emotivists reply by saying that reasons can still be given, as instruments by which people may try to change others’ minds. They can claim that the considerations people present to try to change others’ minds needn’t be any less reputable than the considerations we currently use. They must concede, however, that all considerations are logically irrelevant to moral judgments; their only relevance is psychological (as instruments of persuasion).
    4. emotivism or not?
      1. pro: explains persistence of moral disagreement
      2. con: denies that morality is a rational enterprise
  17. EMP, chapter 4: “Does Morality Depend on Religion?”
    1. key points
      1. the two interpretations of the divine-command theory of morality
      2. the shortcomings (not necessarily fatal flaws) of each
      3. the problems with basing moral decisions on religious teachings
    2. section 4.1: “The Presumed Connection between Morality and Religion” (skip)
      1. Rachels notes that “People commonly believe that morality can be understood only in the context of religion” (p. 49).
      2. He also notes that for many people, life would be meaningless if their religious beliefs weren’t true.
    3. section 4.2: “The Divine Command Theory”
      1. Rachels’s strategy in this, the most important section of the chapter:
        1. claiming that this theory has two possible interpretations
        2. arguing that each interpretation is problematic in some way
        3. concluding that, therefore, the overall theory is problematic as well
      2. the general idea and its attractions
        1. The general theory is the thought that what is right is what God commands (or has commanded), and what is wrong is what God forbids (or has forbidden).
        2. The attractions of this theory are twofold.
          1. It provides a non-relativist, non-subjectivist account of morality.
          2. It answers the question of what reason one has to be moral (answer: because God will reward you if you are, and punish you if you are not).
      3. first interpretation of this theory
        1. meaning
          1. The first interpretation of this theory is that what is right is right because God commands it.
          2. That is, God’s commanding something is what makes it right.
        2. problematic implications
          1. The first problematic implication is that no matter what God commands, it’s right—even if God were to command us to be greedy, dishonest, or murderous. For if God’s commanding something is sufficient to make it right (which is what the theory claims), then there’s nothing that we could (logically) refuse to regard as right, if it were to turn out to be commanded by God.
          2. The second problematic implication is that the claim that God is good ceases to be a statement of praise and becomes essentially meaningless, since this theory denies us any vantage point from which we can logically praise God’s commands as wise, or God himself as good. For if whatever God commands is necessarily right, then there’s no way God could possibly have ever commanded anything wrong, and there’s no error that God has steered clear of in commanding what he has commanded. Another way of seeing this point is to observe that if this interpretation of the divine-command theory is taken to be correct, then to claim that God’s commands are good is nothing more than to claim that they are consistent with God’s commands. And this is no praise at all. (It’s not a complaint, either; it’s just a morally neutral observation. The point is that this interpretation of the divine-command theory makes it logically impossible to morally judge God at all.)
        3. verdict
          1. The two problematic implications don’t keep the first interpretation of the theory from being true.
          2. They just force any proponent of it to accept two further things that most people do not want to accept.
      4. second interpretation of the theory
        1. meaning
          1. The second interpretation of the divine-command theory is that God commands what is right because it is right.
          2. It views God’s commands as being based on what’s antecedently right and wrong; and it views God himself as an extremely reliable, indeed infallible, reporter of what’s good and right (which presumably is a pretty good thing).
          3. Note that this interpretation avoids the problematic implications of the first one.
          4. Indeed this interpretation is incompatible with the first one—someone who says that God commands what is right because it is right (second interpretation) denies that what is right is right because God commands it (the first interpretation).
        2. possibly problematic implication
          1. This view denies God any role in determining the content of morality.
          2. That is, if the content of morality is determined independently of God’s will, then he is in no way the “author” of morality, but just a very helpful guide to it.
        3. verdict
          1. Despite this view’s “demotion” of God from author of morality to mere guide, this view is widely viewed as more acceptable than the first interpretation.
          2. This is mainly because since the first interpretation makes it impossible to praise God by calling God good, and most people are loathe to give up the intuition that God can be praised as good.
      5. worksheet: Divine-Command Theory: An Analogy
    4. section 4.4: “Religion and Particular Moral Issues”
      1. problems with basing moral decisions on religious teachings
        1. difficulty of finding scriptural guidance
        2. ambiguity of scriptural guidance
      2. What does Christian scripture say about abortion?
        1. First, there is a passage in the book of Jeremiah in which Jeremiah quotes God as having said that he “consecrated” him even before he was born. It should be noted, though, that the context is not about abortion, or the status of fetuses, at all.
        2. Second, in the 21st chapter of Exodus, we learn that in the law of the  ancient Israelites, the penalty for murder was death, but the penalty for causing a woman to have a miscarriage was only a fine. The separate (and lesser) penalty for ending the development of a fetus suggests that this was not regarded as murder, and that fetuses were not accorded full human status.
      3. What does the tradition of the Christian church say about abortion?
        1. St. Thomas Aquinas (12th century) maintained that an embryo did not have a soul until it was several weeks old, and the church officially adopted this view in 1312.
        2. But the in the 17th century, the church adopted the view that the fetus is just a very tiny person, with the same status as (other) actual people.
        3. Although modern biological knowledge disproves this view, the church has maintained the moral prohibition on abortion.
      4. Rachels’s point: the Christian scriptures' and tradition's uncertain answers to these questions should make us wary of thinking that religion can be an adequate source of moral guidance and judgment.
    5. section 3.7, from the second full paragraph on p. 46
      1. Here, too, Rachels explores the possibility of finding moral guidance, in this case in regard to homosexuality, from religious sources. (This actually doesn’t begin until the third full paragraph on p. 46—the second full paragraph, which is the first one following what we last read from this section, deals neither with deriving morality from nature nor with basing moral decisions on scripture.)
      2. Rachels identifies two problems with looking basing moral decisions on scripture.
        1. There’s a lot of scripture that many people would be uncomfortable with, to say the least.
        2. It should be possible to find reasons for what scripture says to do and not to do.
  18. EMP, chapter 5: “Psychological Egoism” 
    1. key points
      1. what psychological egoism is
      2. why the enterprise of ethics would be threatened if psychological egoism were true
      3. the strategy of reinterpreting motives
      4. the untestability of psychological egoism when understood in terms of this strategy
    2. section 5.1: “Is Unselfishness Possible?”
      1. what psychological egoism is
        1. Psychological egoism is sometimes identified with the view that every human action is motivated by self-interest.
        2. Slightly different, and perhaps more precise and representative of the debate over psychological egoism, is the following view: people act only in ways that they believe are consistent with maximally advancing their own interests. (This allows for behavior not motivated by self-interest, as long as it’s consistent with the maximal advancing of one’s self-interest.)
      2. why the enterprise of ethics would be threatened if psychological egoism were true
        1. Just about every moral theory tells us that it is, from time to time, our duty to be unselfish.
        2. If this is not possible, then the whole project of normative ethics will falter on an overly optimistic view of human nature.
    3. section 5.2: “The Strategy of Reinterpreting Motives”
      1. An obvious apparent objection to psychological egoism is the claim that people do things for altruistic reasons all the time (or, at least, pretty often). In response to this, the standard reply of the psychological egoist is to impute to the person some other, essentially selfish, motivation. Thomas Hobbes went so far as to provide psychological-egoistic interpretations of charity and pity:
        1. He said that charity, in all cases, is enjoyable to us because it demonstrates our superiority over those to whom we are charitable.
        2. He said that that pity is ultimately self-interested because it reflects our fear of suffering misfortune.
      2. the strategy of reinterpreting motives: the strategy of interpreting apparently selfless or non-self-interested behavior as, in fact, selfish or self-interested
      3. It should be noted that this strategy, however plausible one may find it, only proves that psychological egoism is possible: it does not show that it’s true. Or, in other words that put the point somewhat more accurately: it shows only that one may be able to interpret all behavior as self-interested; it does not show that the self-interested interpretation of all behavior is the best one.
    4. section 5.3: “Two Arguments in Favor of Psychological Egoism” (skip)
      1. first argument
        1. Here’s one representation of the first argument:
          1. Whenever people act, they do what they most want to do.
          2. Whenever people do what they most want to do, they act selfishly.
          3. Therefore, whenever people act, they act selfishly.
        2. There are two problems with this argument.
          1. First, the first premise is false: people do not always do what they most want to do. Sometimes, people do what they feel obligated to do instead of what they most want to do. For example, it would make perfectly good sense for a person to say, “I want to go to the movies, but I promised my roommate I’d help her with her math homework.” And although it is open to the psychological egoist to claim that such a person would be speaking colloquially, or in a logically imprecise way, most people would not join the psychological egoist in claiming this. Most people would say, rather, that it’s perfectly reasonable for a person to claim, on occasion, that what he or she is doing is not what he or she would most like to be doing.
          2. Second, the second premise is false: doing what one most wants does not mean that one is acting selfishly. If what you most want to do is to deliver meals to shut-ins, then most people would say that having this desire is the sort of thing that makes one an unselfish person, and that acting on it is unselfish action.
        3. Because of these objections, this argument has few supporters.
      2. second argument
        1. Here’s one representation of the second argument:
          1. Whenever people act in apparently selfless ways, they derive satisfaction from acting in those ways.
          2. If a person derives satisfaction from acting in some way, then acting in that way is selfish.
          3. Therefore, whenever people act in apparently selfless ways, they are acting selfishly.
        2. The first premise may be false, but let’s ignore that. The essential problem with this argument lies in its second premise. As before, if someone desires to help other people and happens to derive satisfaction from that, then does that make his action selfish? Or, rather, is the desire to help other people, and the satisfaction that results from the satisfaction of that sort of desire, the mark of an unselfish person?
    5. section 5.4: “Clearing Away Some Confusions” (skip)
      1. There are some confusions on which the apparent plausibility of psychological egoism may rest.
        1. One is the confusion between selfishness and self-interest. Earlier Rachels argued that not all behavior is selfish. Here his point is that even if all behavior is something similar to selfish—namely, self-interested—that would not mean that all behavior is also selfish, since self-interest is different from selfishness. (It is unclear why Rachels thinks this is much of a response to psychological egoism, since that doctrine does not claim that all behavior is selfish; it just claims that all behavior is self-interested. So the truth of psychological egoism is not directly threatened by the observation that not all self-interested behavior is also selfish.)
        2. Another is the confusion between acting self-interestedly and acting in pursuit of pleasure for oneself. Sometimes, people act in pursuit of pleasure for themselves in ways that actually harm themselves. Unlike the remarks just noted, these do work directly against psychological egoism, since they suggest that no matter how often people act in the pursuit of pleasure, we can’t infer that they are also acting self-interestedly.
        3. A third is the confusion between self-interest and disregard for others’ interests. It is perfectly possible for someone to act self-interestedly, but also to have considerable regard for others’ interests. Again (i.e., as in the case of the first “confusion” mentioned above), the bearing of this on the thesis of psychological egoism is unclear. Rachels’s point seems to be this: that even if we can reasonably describe a whole lot of behavior as self-interested, that is not as dire as it might sound, given the extent to which self-interest is typically compatible with concern for others’ interests.
      2. Once these confusions are cleared up, psychological egoism may lose some of its appeal.
    6. section 5.5: “The Deepest Error in Psychological Egoism”
      1. two ways of being a psychological egoist
        1. One way is to have criteria, or some test, for what it takes for behavior to be self-interested, and then test your thesis (that all behavior is self-interested) by checking observable behavior against these criteria. This kind of psychological egoism is testable and scientifically respectable. It might turn out to be false, but at least it can be tested, which is the important thing.
        2. The other way is to reinterpret motives so that all behavior gets interpreted as self-interested. This is the way of being a psychological egoist that we are concerned with evaluating in this chapter. This kind of psychological egoism is untestable. We can see the problem with this way of being a psychological egoist with some analogies.
      2. one analogy: two ways of holding the thesis that “All the people in this asylum are insane.”
        1. One way is to have criteria, or some test, for what it takes for a person to be insane, and then assess each person against these criteria. Then your thesis comes out true if each person is insane, according to the criteria.
        2. The other way is to assume that all the people are insane, and to persist in interpreting everyone’s behavior as evidence of insanity, regardless of how sane the person may seem to people who have criteria for detecting insanity. Understood in this way, the thesis that “All the people in this asylum are insane” doesn’t convey any information about them.
      3. back to psychological egoism
        1. Similarly, psychological egoism must be regarded as testable if it is to informative. Otherwise, it is just a decision to use the concept of self-interest to encompass all of human behavior, instead of an assertion that human behavior has a property (that of being governed by self-interested) that we didn’t realize it had.
        2. In other words, if psychological egoism is understood not in a way that makes it testable, but instead is held as an interpretive framework into which all observations of behavior are to be shoehorned, then we must ask, how useful is this framework, this lens through which all behavior is seen as self-interested? How useful is the thesis of psychological behavior in the task of explaining behavior?
      4. further analogies
        1. psychological altruism: the view that people act only in ways that they believe are consistent with maximally advancing others’ interests.
          1. A psychological altruist could be just as relentless in interpreting individuals’ motives as altruistic as a psychological egoist might be in interpreting individuals’ motives as egoistic.
          2. The fact that the strategy of reinterpreting motives could lead to such a stalemate shows that it is not a source of good reasons for a psychological theory.
        2. “People only act in ways that they believe have some special connection with the number 7.”
        3. “Everything, when you dig deep enough, is made of cheese.”