Elements of moral philosophy.
I read the book with interest and I decided to integrate it in an experiment.
I proposed to some other students, reading this very same course, to write this first home assignment for them. This home assignment is mandatory in order to receive the points for the Ethics course. Would be ethical for them to accept me writing their assignments? Under any or all circumstances? Are they going to accept it? Is it ethical for me to ask? And is it ethical to discuss this proposal in the assignment itself? And was it ethical for me not to tell them what was the purpose of my question? And is it ethical to instill now the doubt in the teacher, that maybe some student did not actually write her or his own essay?
My first approach has been the following: "I can write the assignment for you, for 1000 Swedish crowns." - No student accepted. Was it because they considered unethical to let some one else doing their home assignment? To let some one else do their job, cheat the teacher and get the credits, did all this contrast with their morality? Or maybe the amount of money I have requested was too high? Was it ethical egoism? Or maybe this idea was contrasting with their list of virtues? The answer to may proposal was always immediate. No one took the time to think an answer. This suggested me that, what ever was their reason, they used all an heteronomy approach. The answer is no! I write my own assignment.
So I decided to say "Ok, then, I do it for free. I liked the book. I will do it for you anyway." - In this way I removed the monetary approach. Maybe I was asking too much. Maybe it was unethical to pay (and/or to be paid) for doing something that could be regarded as cheating. However no student accepted even in this case. Egoism would have suggested to accept. You obtain for free something that before could have cost you 1000 Swedish crowns. You do not even need to read the book. You have so many things to do as a PhD student, and anyway it is not a complete cheat, since there are 4 essays to write, and you are anyway going to write the others. Ethical egoism was not the case. If we do not consider the possible fear in the student to be caught cheating. Maybe they did not accept this offer not to infringe the social contract among students and teacher, or more in general among scientists. Utilitarianism would have suggested them to accept the offer. Every PhD student needs points, and have little time to dedicate to courses. But still, even if useful for the final aim of their studies, their respect for the rules was dominant?
Finally I asked "Listen, next week I will travel to Japan and I will not have the chance to read the book for the next assignment. I was thinking, maybe we can help one the other. I know that you are very busy this week. I can write your home work now. And you can help me writing mine next week. What do you think?"
All the students took some time to reason and discuss with me this option and most of them decided to accept the idea. Why did become acceptable for them to have their homework for this week done by me, instead of doing it by themselves? Ethical egoism does not hold. Nor utilitarianism. In both cases it was better for them to accept the second offer (I do it for them, without asking anything back), however they all judged unethical to do so. Their list of virtues was going to be infringed now (honesty, justice, fairness, prudence). So when they did not accept the deal, in the first two offers (for free, and for 1000 SEK), it was not for adherence to unwritten virtues.
It is also interesting to observe that the first two offers were rejected "without" thinking, in a very short time, almost immediately. While the last offer induced the students to reason.
In the first offer I gave no motivation (if not the monetary one, but I did not say "I need money" for example.) In the second offer I gave a very shallow motivation. The third offer, the one that stimulated a positive answer in most students, was well motivated, empathetic, offered an exchange more ethically acceptable (for money "no", but for doing the same for you "yes"). Is this last point (the more ethically acceptable exchange) related to a cultural ethic? Was altruism a strong point? I expressed empathetically my needs ("I will be unable to do the next home work, may you help me?"). I have motivated my request. I stimulated "autonomy" (reason, what are pro and cons. how can I do the best) against "heteronomy" (it is cheating! it is wrong!)
In all the three offers the final practical result was the same. Me doing the home work for the others, and so cheating. However the process leading to this decision made two offers to sound unethical and unacceptable, whereas the third appeared to be ethically acceptable. Yes, there is always "cheating", but there is compromise with other legitimate needs ("this week you are too busy, too many things to do, too many requests from your supervisor, maybe you are sick, or your children are; next week I will be away, I really cannot do it. I will read the book anyway but I cannot keep the deadline")
The decision to accept the third offer was taken autonomously by the students guided by their reasoning and in the best, equally weighted interest of both of us. Accepting my third offer, they maximized the interest of all. The decision to reject the first two offers was taken "automatically", following a set of rules, without reasoning.
A parallelism can be drawn between the prisoner´s dilemma and this experiment. In the first case (1000 SEK) only my interest was done (the effort to write the essay is not worth 1000 SEK). In the second case (FREE) only the interest of the other student was done. In the last case (both of us guilty!), we both took a part of work, in our common best interest.
The choice was always done ethically! The students judged ethical to refuse the first two offers, whereas they judged ethical to accept the third one.
(NOTE: I declare here that this was just an experiment. I never intended to realize what I fictionally proposed to the students. I wrote my own essay. And I did not write anyone else home assignment. I do not encourage such behave.)
Abstract of the book "The elements of moral philosophy" by Rachels and Rachels
The book gives the reader a guided overview of western moral philosophy. In the different chapters
various moral theories are presented with its strengths as well as its flaws.
However, before the book introduces the different moral theories the first chapter is devoted to a
discussion about how to define morality. A task that seems impossible without offending one or the
other of the moral theories that exist. Nevertheless, the declaration called the minimum conception can
be found to be consistent in most moral theories with the theories not to follow it found to have severe
problems when criticized. The minimum conceptions consists of the two components; that one should
do what there is best reasons to do as well as to act impartially.
Cultural Relativism stem from the observation of differences between societies and their accepted
behavior. However, on inspection the differences are not so big and only because some are, all of them
does not have to be.
Ethical Subjectivism is formed out of the thought that there is no objective morality instead it is our
feelings that will guide. It developed through Simple Subjectivism into Emotivism to resist criticism for
i.a. a need of human beings to be infallible. Emotivism improved the theory but is still in problem since
the theory seems very arbitrary in its morality when there is no place for reasons only for feelings and
The Divine Command Theory and the Theory of Natural Law are two moral theories connected to the
question whether morality and religion are bound together. The conclusion of that chapter is that they
are not i.a. because if not to view gods' commands as arbitrary there must exist a morality independent
of the gods.
Psychological Egoism believes that everything that we do is only for our own winning. The fault with
the theory is that it can explain all behaviors as egoistic but a theory that cannot be refuted or tested is
hard to trust in.
Ethical Egoism differs from Psychological Egoism in the way that it deals with how we ought to
conduct and not what we actually do. It states that we only have the duty to act for our own best. One
argument against it is that it is arbitrary; Why am I better than you?
Utilitarianism, to look for the conduct with most happiness over unhappiness, together with Kant's
Categorial Imperatives, only act in a way that you would like everyone else at all times to do, are the
moral theories that have had the largest influence in our time.
The social contact theory is thought to be moral rules that all rational beings are to accept and follow in
that everyone will benefit from it and not only one on the cost of all others (the case of an egoism
The Ethics of Virtue does not give rules on how to act instead it emphasizes personal qualities in the
form of virtues. Many philosophers advocate that moral philosophy should return to the ideas of virtues
that origin from the ancient Greek philosophers and leave the track of modern moral philosophy built
upon moral rules but where no "lawgiver" exists.
Seminar 1: Philosophy
It is not a secret that James Rachels is not a big fan of utilitarianism. In effect, the author sounds surprised when commenting on the fact that the theory is still being discussed today, given the strong arguments against it. I would like to draw the attention to one of the very last arguments mentioned against the utilitarian approach, namely that it is simply too demanding. Looking at the argument by itself, that may very well be the one reason why people that are attracted by the approach and its relatively simple propositions about morality free from cultural and religious influence are not living up to its conclusions.
Imagine you are immune towards the other arguments that has been brought against utilitarianism; would you still be able to go through all the tough decisions that follows from being a true utilitarian? In this sense, the argument concerning personal relations and that it is too demanding are the same; they ask the individual to make decisions concerning his or her life that from a personal perspective is not manageable without suffering yourself. The driver is not strong enough to overcome the barrier.
The increased concern over the environment is raising more and more doubts about our consumption habits in the industrialised countries. Furthermore, studies suggest that we, as individuals, do not become happier when our level of income and standard of living (or number of flat screen TV´s) are increased above a certain level. Even though the millennium goals are working towards reducing the world poverty, the development is going in the wrong direction in many regions. Also, within most industrialised countries, the income gap is continuously increased, suggesting that the overall happiness is not increasing.
Though many people can stand behind the Brundtland definition of sustainable development (Brundtland definition of sustainable devlopment: development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."), and many policies are created to reduce our global warming potential, water stress, environmental footprint or whatever you choose to call it, far too many decisions are taking us away from sustainability.
Destroying our natural habitats could easily be argued as a very stupid thing to do, and from a wider perspective the consequences of these many acts should contribute negatively to the net happiness among us and other mammals. It seems that utilitarianism and sustainable living and consumption patterns have something in common: It both suggests us to act in a manner that - though you could see the benefit of its consequences on our happiness - demand more of us than we can bear.
Someone once told me that you should not judge yourself too hard, since you at every instant do the most you can out of you situation. This might sound like a blunt attempt to defend lazy Sundays, but in fact it also says something about being human. We are limited by our feelings, physical endurance, cultural backgrounds, genes and experiences. Knowing something is good might not be enough to act accordingly no matter the consequences.
As I have gathered from internet sources, the book by Rachels & Rachels seems to be something of a classic within philosophic literature, or perhaps within academic literature in general. I can understand why since I found it to be very well-written, and with a good balance between abstract reasoning and concrete examples. To be perfectly honest, my plan was to skim through it very quickly, but I ended up reading it fairly thoroughly. In general, the book covers the most famous moral philosophies, and does a good job of examining their respective strengths and weaknesses. Rachels is (as far as I can determine) honest about the merits of each school of thought, and only once (see below) did I feel that there were significant points that he did not cover. He is also refreshingly open in what conclusions could possibly be drawn from the philosophies, even when these conclusions strongly contradict one´s gut feeling of what is right and wrong (some examples relate to abortion and euthanasia).
I will briefly raise two points that I thought were especially interesting in the book, and describe one weakness that I found. First, I thought that it was interesting that the author so clearly took a stand against basing rewards on a person´s inherited skills, versus rewards based on the labour put forth. In general this is probably something that a lot of people will agree with, but I found Rachels to be clearer than most others I have encountered. This is illustrated in the sentence (my own translation): "A person´s voluntary actions, but nothing else, justify deviation from the basic principle of `equal treatment´".
The second point of interest for me was that the relation between religion and morals was put in new light, compared to my previous experience. I found the conclusion that religion and fundamental morals do not necessarily presuppose each others, and also that they can coexist without "stealing each others spotlight" to be interesting. Also, I had not realized the extent to which historic philosophers had worked in contexts that were non-religious.
Finally, I would like to point out the main weakness of the book, as I see it. Rachels is a strong proponent of utilitarianism, albeit of a modified kind. Still, he does not discuss the classic problem of valuing a lot of happiness for a few versus a small amount of happiness for many. Given his skilled analysis of other topics, I would have liked to seen him deal with this issue.
Elements of Moral Philosophy
The book starts by defining morality which is a difficult task as so many possible and opponent definitions exists. The readers were given examples of handicapped children to demonstrate. An argument was made that life is worthless without the ability to interact with others and the world. Different cultures have unique customs and ways of thinking. It may be difficult for someone of one culture to understand these differences, and this defines cultural relativism-different cultures have unlike moral codes. For instance, all cultures generally share some of the same moral and ethical values in common. The meaning of subjectivism was the topic of chapter 3. In general, emotivism looks at the same issues on the level of language. When we state a moral opinion, it is just a view and is not a fact. While we may want to influence with our verbal communication and try to make someone feel what we want to express, this is still maintaining that all of these statements are still just approaches. James Rachels questions this process of gleaning moral information from religion exclusively and takes this almost mechanical statement to task in the several sections of the chapter. The definition at the end of the first section of book, however, is that of psychological egoism, which states that we are perhaps not as unselfish as we may seem-that many of our outwardly kind acts are in fact for our better and selfish attention. One of the most compelling points of view in favor of ethical egoism is that it is the hardest to think about, especially in our society. It is the fact that unselfishness is self-defeating. This goes against the common notion that helping others is good for both the self (in terms of ideas about self-worth, for example) as well as for the community as a whole. The author makes quite an underestimation when he takes in hand the problem of choosing between all of the theories regarding ethics and morality. While it has been nearly unfeasible throughout the text not to side with one over the other, the most important element of the internal debate is that one has learned how to measure different answer to difficult moral questions and consider why they exist. When making moral decisions reasonableness, an understanding of the extent of the argument is necessary. The people should be treated as they deserve to be treated according to the author. Furthermore, among all of the discussions presented in this text, the model and list entitled "Right Action as Living" makes the most sense since it integrates nearly all of the theories and remains fixed in reasonableness. This takes into account ideas of what is good for the society, the individual, and can be extended to include debates surrounding justice and ethics. However the book can be used to write articles as a reference and it gives a basic and thorough idea about ethics, morality, and egoism. Being from a natural science background student I became confused reading the chapters and skipped many pages to be honest. The questions that came to my mind, is helping others without asking anything in return is non ethical? And as psychological egoism states are we not as unselfish as we seem to be, even though we do things for others or for society just as a help? Is moral opinion not a fact then and not only an opinion? Then what other variables are influencing these psychological issues? Is this our family, society, surroundings? Or with the individuals we deal with? Or does it vary from people to people? Can education change the moral value or someone then?
"THE ELEMENTS OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY"
What is right and what is wrong? How we, social human beings living in communities, "ought to live" and why? Throughout centuries thinkers tried to find the answers and so different theories were born. In his book J. Rachels is introducing the reader into the subject of moral philosophy, who presumably knows nothing but is willing to know, by presenting basic theories in ethics based on examples from applied ethics (for ex. gay rights, euthanasia, animal rights, abortion and other modern ethical issues). Moreover, the author is presenting together with each theory its evolution in time as well as arguments on why these theories are completely or partially wrong. And at the end of the book he presents his own theory.
Cultural relativism claims that different cultures have different moral codes, and so there is no objective standard to consider one society better than another or to judge the conduct of other people, and that there is no measure of right and wrong other than the standards of one society. By taking cultural relativism seriously, he says, we are not only forbidden to criticize other societies but also our own. Another consequence of it it´s that the idea of moral progress is put into doubt.
According to Ethical Subjectivism our moral opinions are based on our feelings. So from this point of view there is no "objective" right or wrong. This theory about the nature of moral judgments (and not of how we should live) evolved through two stages: Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism. In Simple Subjectivism 1) different people having opposite opinions about one and the same issue would not disagree. But this is wrong, because they do disagree; 2) each and one of us is always right in our moral judgments, which is also wrong because we may be mistaken. In the improved version of the theory, Emotivism, moral language is not fact-stating language, but a means of influencing people´s behavior and to express one´s attitude. So if somebody says "X is immoral" it doesn´t mean "I disapprove X", it is equivalent with "Damn X!". But Emotivism lacks the reason, it uses only verbal means for influencing people´s conduct, while not any fact can count as a reason in support of any judgment.
In Devine Command Theory or Voluntarism morally right is commended by God, and morally wrong forbidden by God. But why does God command it? Can it be so that he makes random commands? Or he commands them because they are right? It seems like the only logical thing is that right and wrong exist independently of God´s will.
Ethical Egoism is a normative theory about how we ought to behave. According to it regardless of how we behave, the only right thing is to pursue our own self-interest. J. Rachels is presenting three arguments in its defense and three arguments against it.
And he fails it as a moral theory for the reason that we should care about the interest of others for the same reason we care about ourselves.
In the Utilitarianism the only thing that matters is happiness. According to it the right actions are ones that produce the most good, which in Utilitarianism is only happiness. According to it, consequences are all that matter. The most serious antiutilitarian arguments are justice (for ex. it is Ok to put an innocent person in prison for the happiness of all the rest), rights and backward-looking reasons.
The great German philosopher Emanuel Kant believed that morality is a matter of following absolute rules, rules that admit no exceptions and that must be followed, because they are derived from a principle that every rational person must accept. He called those rules "categorical oughts", and the principle they are derived from is called The Categorical Imperative. For example he believed that lying is ALWAYS wrong, no matter what are the circumstances. But the existence of at least two absolute rules might bring conflict. One of his basic ideas was that a moral judgment must be backed by good reasons, which one must accept ALL the time, as a requirement of consistency, so he thought that no rational person can deny it.
The Social Contract Theory can be formulated as follows: morality consist in the set of rules, governing how people are to treat one another, that rational people will agree to accept for their mutual benefit, on the condition that others follow those rules as well. The Prisoner´s Dilemma is one example. One big objection to this theory has to do with its implications for our duties toward nonhuman animals.
After reviewing all these theories, one is left wondering what to believe. What, in the final analysis, is the truth? So, in the last chapter of the book the author builds up his own theory called Morality Without Hubris, which from his point of view is a satisfactory moral theory. In this theory 1) Morality is a function of reason; 2) Rachels combines utilitarian, Kantian and virtue ethics considerations.
Abstract on The elements of moral philosophy by J. & S. Rachels
The area of moral philosophy has been discussed by philosophers for hundreds of years.
Socrates was the first to touch the topic and in The state he wrote that the question of morality
was the question about "how we ought to live". Yet no consensus has been reached in many
In the book The elements of moral philosophy Jaemes and Stuart Rachels describe moral
philosophy as how to, systematically, understand the nature of the moral and what it requires
of us. They admit that there exist no single definition of morality which everyone in the field
agree on, but emphazise that some parts definitely are common among most, if not all, of the
In order to assess the question of which moral philosophy that is the best, they give an
introduction to the most well-known theories, and discuss shortly their pros and cons. The
moral implications of each theory is compared to what's dictated by the "common moral" and
theories which aren't compatible with the "common moral" are rejected as well as theories
which imply serious contradictions or flaws, e.g. that could promote racism or in which an
action could be both moral and immoral simultaneously.
As an example, the main argument against cultural relativism is that it will make it impossible
to morally object against habits that we don't like in other cultures. Including actions that are
"obviously" without any benefit, as in the case of female circumcise. Another argument is that
there are moral rules, that are and must be common for every society, like the rule not to lie.
Finally, they discuss what a reasonable moral philosophy should be like. Instead of giving an
exact answer, they outline the elements which they deem necessary for a useful theory.
Among these elements are the modest conception about the human. We must regard ourself as
a species among others, realizing that the world were not created for the human, but rather
that the human was created as a rather unsignificant consequence of the world. Our unique
intellect, however, gives us the possibility to act, not by habit or instinct, but by reason. This
gives us the possibility to act morally.
In the relations with other humans we should abandon the idea of always treating everyone
equally, and take their actions into account. We should help a person who has always stand by
our side, before a complete stranger. If we would treat everyone the same, we would not
recognize them as agents with their own responsibility. Sometimes we don't even need a
reason to treat people specially, like in love relations. Further we must guard the justice, for
the society to work. They describe a situation, in which a person who workes hard, ideally,
should receive a promotion before a person who does only what she or he must do.
Finally, they conclude that even without the definite theory, there are resons to be optimistic,
as the future is still open for the field of moral philosophy.
What is morality? This question is as old as time itself and it goes hand in hand with other existential questions. It has been asked millions of times during the course of human existence, along with "why do we exist?" or "what is the purpose of the universe?" As soon as humans started questioning their existence, they must have begun to question their morality as well. What is the purpose of life? One description would include the pursuit of happiness, which in turn is expressed in achieving goodness, knowledge or enlightenment. It can be done in many different ways. Most people, however, are by choice lazy. It is easier to follow common norms, rules and laws instead of thinking, questioning and criticizing oneself with the purpose of making better choices. Yet the uniqueness of a human being lies in the ability to reason and to make those conscious choices. It is this ability to reflect upon our choices that created the need for morality.
If we were mere animals we would follow instinct. If we were good at following those instincts it would ensure our existence. Living for the purpose of procreating would mean that our focus would be on eating, sleeping, having sex and caring for our young, i.e. fulfilling our basic needs for food, shelter, security and social activities. Morality would simply be superfluous. All we would need to survive would be to follow our instincts to the fullest. At this point in the argument, a conscious reader would observe the difference between the words living and existing. Animals exist. People live. Because we cannot be reduced to simple existence we need moral considerations.
How do we then acquire those moral considerations? We could take an approach of Socrates and question everything we do. We could analyze all our actions and make choices after carefully considering all outcomes and deciding on the one that did most good. However, not every person is born a philosopher. An average human being of the western civilization today is a spoiled brat who cannot, doesn´t want to or simply will not think for him or herself. To accommodate this lazy bastard our society has come up with conventions such as virtues, traditions, culture and religion to make those moral choices possible.
If all people were born with a sense of morality, we would not need moral rules. If all people acted morally they would consider everyone´s well-being and everyone would be happy. We would care for the environment, live for the purpose of self-development and lead healthy and happy lives. It is indeed the deviation from morality that asks for the creation of ethical guidelines, so that those who do not follow the generally accepted conventions of good can be guided back into following them. However, a human being, even the one born to privilege, is a flawed creation. Along with the desire to do well and live happy, almost everyone possesses the desire and sometimes the ability to do the opposite. Since we are born with the unique ability to distinguish between good and evil, we have to employ our reason to persuade ourselves to make a choice in favor of good. Choosing in favor of evil would ultimately lead to our own demise. Refusing to make a choice would only bring chaos.
Are there absolute moral rules?
Are there absolute moral rules? Or are there any exceptions to the moral rules? When the US president Harry Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he absolutely violated the moral rule that one should not kill innocent people. Is his behavior immoral? If a murderer come to you and ask you where did the victim hide, should you tell him the truth or lie to him and save the victim´s life?
Some philosophers think the moral rules are `universal laws´ and the rules hold in all circumstances. One should never kill, or never lie, no matter what the consequences are. They have two main arguments to defend this view. Take the rule against lying as an example:
1. If we start to lie, we are following the rule `It is permissible to lie´. Because this rule is self-defeating and cannot be adopted universally, so we should not lie.
2. We are not certain about the consequences of our lying and we cannot know that good results will follow. So the best way to do is avoid the knowing evil, lying, and let the consequences come as they will.
Actually it is not difficult to find out both arguments are not convincing. If we start to lie, it doesn´t mean we are following the rule `It is permissible to lie´, but means `It is permissible to lie under certain conditions´. For example, it is permissible to lie if the lying can save someone´s life. And the second argument can be regard as a way to protect oneself against being evil. If the victim was murdered because you tell the truth, can you really escape the responsibility easily since you have aided the murdered?
There are some circumstances that it is absolutely wrong to do both A and B. You can only choose between doing A and doing B, and there are no other alternatives available. What should we do now?
The moral judgment must backed by good reasons. If you ought to do such-and such, then there must be a reason why you should (or should not) do it. When you are making exceptions to moral rules, e.g. lying, or killing, you need to have good reasons. You need to make a comparison of consequences between following moral rules and breaking moral rules. What will happen if I tell the truth to the murder, and what will happen if I lie to the murder? Even the lying is immoral, if your lying can save one´s life, which is the most important thing to a human being, so what is wrong to lie?
However, breaking the moral rules should always be the last option when one is making decision. The US president Truman should try all kind of means to stop the war before he decided to drop the atomic bomb. In other words, the moral rules should always be fully respected in every decision making process.
The book could be described as an introduction to moral philosophy and gives the reader a
smorgasbord of interesting moral theories and concepts. Many of the examples given in the book
gives the reader different viewpoints that could be considered when discussing morality and the strong
and weak points for one reason against another. The book shows how complex morality is for us and
the many implications it can have. The different types of reasoning in contrast can sometimes be
provocative but very stimulating since it exits no right answer and it becomes interesting to look at the
logic behind a reason. In some cases the framework of ethical subjectivism is very appealing (our
opinion is based on feelings) but on the other-hand it could like cultural relativism where that also
could be used to justify immoral actions. Cultural relativism explains very good why some groups
think they have priority of interpretations and also why we sometimes act irrational and have a bias
about moral questions especially when uncertainty is high.
One guiding framework could be the statement that we should not violate the autonomy for another
person this I think is most important to think about when doing research that involves people. Another
important guidance could the concept about universal values that people must share in order to have
functional social system (society). This in turn could be linked to the concept of universal law which
constitute moral rules that always hold but the argument agains that such rules could exist is evident
for example the dilemma when rules conflicts and the existence of absolute moral rules can be
The criticism of the social contract was very enlightening since it presented argument that some
individual doesn't benefit us and no claim on us could be made this could be the case in research that
some individuals doesn't benefit us and are not included when ethics is considered but could be
largely influenced by the research and the outcome of a research project (could be an technical
artefact in the form of an ICT-system).
The utilitarian approach is very influential and could perhaps be popularized be the statement "You
can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs". In order to gain some benefit (happiness) you
could perhaps have to sacrifice something but the question is how to measure happiness. The
balancing of maximizing happiness is difficult and ultimately the question arise how much is a human
life worth and for example could it be justifiable to sacrifice one individual in research to save other
lives and what ratio should be the bottom limit?
In one of the last chapters in the book an intriguing question about if women and men thinks different
about ethics? Perhaps Carol Gilligan's suggestion that women's basic moral orientation is more
oriented towards caring. This could also have implications for scientific research and to not be biased
when investigating ethics and moral judgement it could be necessary to have both sexes opinions.
Since I was a small child, I was educated to act as a person who is of lots of good morals. They includes: Promise keeping, equality, friendship, fairness, honesty, good health, honour, courage, kindness, a challenging career, etc. Thinking in deep, I am actually not so clear about the moral philosophy. The book "the element of moral philosophy" written by James Rachels has brought me some questions: How should I live my life? How can I make a quick moral decision in some complicated situation in real life?
There are reasons to act morally. There is always a saying that human nature is selfish. Although from my own view of point, I would like to ignore from this argument. In the first part of Rachels's book, he has introduced the concept of the moral, its relation with culture, with religion as well as ethical egoism. It is the view that the right thing for a person to do is whatever brings about the best consequences for himself. However, everyone can not live independently in the society. Without law and morality, we would be in "a state of nature", where each person competed with others for food, shelter, and resources.Source of morality is the need for humans to live together in a civilized society in order to survive. Everyone is better off when we agree to abide by certain principles of respect and cooperation, and punish those who break the agreement. This is also well-explained in the book.
As one member in the society, how can we live a moral life? It is natural that every individual is pursuing happiness. We can recognize happiness as one of the best consequence. However, he can not do whatever he wants since it might hurt others interest, so we always s declaring the words, like human obligations, human rights, human sociability, human governance...... That remind me to think about one of the examples quite close to my life once I was in China. As we know, everyone can not avoid to get sick. Then what they think first it to see a doctor. However, in the last few years, it is quite common that the patients themselves will prepare some money for the doctors as a "gift". They are not forced to do that but they have to because they are afraid that they will be treated badly. It is true in some doctors that they are quite busy (China is huge in population but the amounts of doctors are limited) with low salaries. From the aspect of the doctors, it might be one method to make them happy. After a period, it is found that both the patients and doctors are not pleased since this is really disordered. Now, the government are taking measures to make some regulations in medicine by counting both of their interests and the situation becomes better.
So I believe that more and more, those who have treated others well, deserve be treated well in return. That's how we behave as an individual in a whole society.
Noor Azlinda Ahmad
The book begin with a simple but difficult to answer question; `What is morality?´ Even though no general consensus on what morality is was defined, author has described it as a matter of consulting reason, which is the best reason for doing something while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual who will be affected by what one does. However, morality reason should not rely on individual feelings as it could be influenced by some factors such as selfishness, prejudice and cultural conditioning. Three examples were given and discussed in this chapter; Baby Theresa an anencephalic infant, conjoined twins of Jodie and Mary and Tracy Latimer, a child who suffered from cerebral palsy and was killed by his father. The three stories discussed how moral judgments must be backed by sound reasoning and that morality requires the impartial consideration of all parties involved.
In some part, I agree with what the author say in the book and I am totally disagree in certain issue discussed by the author. According to this book, every culture has their way of thinking, which defines the cultural relativism. Therefore it is difficult to define what is right and what is wrong because, in some society people believe in one thing but in other society, people might believe differently. Every culture is different and can only be understand within particular groups or society. This is so true and due to that reason, each society has their cultural differences argument to argue the facts of differences between cultural outlooks as in the examples of Greeks, Indian tribes and the Eskimos. It is agreed (and which I think that most people will agree) that ethics is too subjective to define since different people have different opinion and therefore there is no fact and nobody is correct. Therefore two stages of subjectivism have been presented in this book which are: simple subjectivism and emotivism. According to simple subjectivism, the ethical statement is a statement of fact while in emotivism, there is no true of false statement which can interpret the moral judgments.
In my opinion, the best part of this book is in chapter 4 where morality from the perspective of religions is discussed. The theory of the nature of right and wrong has been elaborated in the Divine Command Theory where everything which is commanded by God is morally right while the opposite is wrong. This statement may look fine and some people might agree with it, but to some other people for example Atheist, they will disagree because they never believe the existence of God. It was also argued that the morality should not to be related with religions as it should stand on its own, and remain as independent matter. But again, this statement is (for me) sounds `skeptical´. Is it true? I would say that I disagree that religion and morality should be separated. Are there any religions in this world to teach their believers to do something immoral? The answer is no. Further, Rachels pose an interesting question about the unselfishness. Morality demands us to be unselfish, but it is difficult to say how unselfish we should be? How you measure the degree of unselfishness? Is it true that we are always `sincere´ to other people? Those questions are difficult to answer. According to Rachels, we are expected to be attentive to other people´s needs at least to some degree. Nevertheless, theory of human nature denies the unselfishness and suggested that every human action is actually motivated by one self-interest.
Overall, I would say that this book was written in a simple but easy and fun to read. Indirectly, it is somehow `inspiring´ and motivated me to understand and enjoy the world of philosophy.
Almost all moral theorists think that we should be helpful to others, even at the expense of personal advantage. Some argue that all behavior is motivated by self interest. According to psychological egoism, each person is so constituted that he will look out only for his own interests. If it is true, it follows that altruism is a myth.
On the other hand, others argue that there are cases of altruistic behavior, motivated solely be interest in the well being of others. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) thought that a generalized account of this would be possible: listing motives. He showed how they could be understood egoistically. For example, charity is a man's ability to fulfill his own desires and pity is imagining ourselves in a future calamity because of another man's situation.
There are some arguments for psychological egoism. First of all, when an action is done voluntarily, one is doing what one wants to do. For instance, one contribute money to famine relief. He or she should not be praised for doing unselfishly what he or she wants to do. Besides, doing what one wants to do is being motivated by self interest. Because the action is dictated by desires and motivations by desires are selfish. However, it is false that people never do voluntary things that they don't want to do and even if grant that voluntary action is motivated by desire, it doesn't follow that one acts selfishly in doing other-interested acts. Secondly, unselfish actions produce a sense of self-satisfaction in the agent . We all seek the sense of self-satisfaction and unselfish actions are only superficially so. But the unselfish person is the one who does get satisfaction from unselfish actions. Generally, the object of our attitude of pleasure is the attainment of the goal, whether it is for self or others.
To unite the diverse phenomena of human behavior, self-regard is considered as the most important factor in motivation. Even though, there are still some confusions on psychological egoism. The first confusion is between selfishness and self-interest. For example, brushing my teeth, working hard at my job and obeying the law are all in my self-interest, but none of these are examples of selfish conduct. The second confusion is between self-interested behavior and the pursuit of pleasure. We do lots of things because we enjoy them, but that does not mean we acting from self-interest, like smoking. Therefore, not all action are selfish and self-interested. Thus, psychological egoism is false.
Psychological Egoism seemed a good theory because it appeared irrefutable. Psychology professors were admitted at mental institutions: although sane, the presence of these individuals gave the assumption that they were challenged. And all of their behavior could be reinterpreted in light of the assumption. For instance, once a hypothesis is accepted, everything may be interpreted to support it. However, the hypothesis was untestable.
Similarly, psychological egoism says there is only one motive for behavior, failing to recognize any distinct behavior. The psychological egoist has only announced his determination o interpret people's behavior in a certain way, no matter what they do.
The book starts with a question `what is morality?´ and some examples, seeking to define morality by minimum conception. The minimum conception is that, in my words, morality is what guides people with the best reasons when they conduct or make decisions, provided that the interests of each individual are given equal weights.
Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 talks about `culture relativism´ and `subjectivism in ethics´. To me, both culture relativism and subjectivism challenge the ordinary belief in the objectivity and universality of moral truth. They imply that morality is relative to different cultures and individuals. There are a few consequences of accepting cultural relativism. Firstly, we could have no logical basis for saying that the customs of one society are morally superior to those of another. Secondly, 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. And lastly, moral progress never occurs. On the other hand, cultural relativism reminds us that it is necessary to keep an open mind about moral questions, and be willing to reconsider our moral beliefs. The theory of ethical subjectivism is the idea that no matter what moral judgments we make, we are only expressing our personal feelings, and nothing more. However, this theory is vulnerable to objections and has evolved into what is called `emotivism´. This invokes the question of whether or not there are any moral facts. And moral judgments require backing by reasons. We must make decisions and think about moral issues on grounds that are more substantial than feeling.
In Chapter 4, it is shown that the Divine Command Theory is untenable because it is unacceptably arbitrary and self-refuting. Also the Theory of Natural Law does not hold. The theory of natural law means that to act in conformity with larger purpose is natural and morally good and to act otherwise is bad. One of the objection arguments to this theory can be that there are no purposes built-in to nature. My questions against the natural law theory follow like this: `How to define larger purpose?´; ´By statistics?´; `what if statistics are misleading?´ etc.
Psychological Egoism (Chapter 5) tells us that there is really only one motive, self regard. But does this really just simply explain all of the human behavior? In the end of this chapter, the author pointed out the deepest error in Psychological Egoism that it is not testable. Paradoxically, if we do not allow some way in which we might be mistaken, we lose all chance of being right. Ethical Egoism (Chapter 6) says that people should always act so as to benefit themselves exclusively. The egoist arbitrarily assumes his interests come before those of other people for no good reason. But as a matter of fact, no one person matters that much more than others.
We can not deny to the fact that the revolution in ethics especially in western countries were mainly influenced by the revolution history in Europe, and civil war in America. The late 18th and 19th centuries, utilitarianism formed shocking violent revolution in ideology as well as ethics implicate to the sentient being. In this book, utilitarianism doctrine was described in chapter seven and eight, respectively. In chapter seven, reveal a wide comprehend view about some transformation history of utilitarian movement, principle of morality and ethics based on happiness or unhappiness. A theory of Utilitarianism proposed by Jeremy Hume (1711 - 1776) then strengthens by two important persons, Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873). Further this chapter describe about the principle of utility which are defined by preference satisfaction (happiness, free from suffering) and knowledge or other things that refer to pleasure. Morality is just the attempt to bring about as much happiness as possible in this world. In other word the utilitarianism is viewed as a philosophy from human idea concerning the moral value action depend either minimizing negative utility or maximizing positive utility to ensure our human good or others is preserved. Chapter seven highlighted the implication of classical utilitarianism practice from two different issues such as euthanasia (physician - assisted suicide upon request) and the treatment of animals. Euthanasia is considered morally right cause killing to that particular person would provide an escape from misery. From church´s doctrine and moral tradition do not agree the morality of mercy killing because a rule states that killing innocent people is always wrong. As quoted by Bentham in his book: "calling him benevolent in words, but they do not mean that he is so in reality" means that they do not believe God as benevolent creator because they think that God is unable to give the best solution for any circumstances. However euthanasia is illegal in every western nation and United States, but is accepted in Holland. Furthermore I agree with the author that utilitarian is atheistic or anti religious philosophy as they doubt about God as a benevolent creator. The utilitarian doctrine is contradicted with normal mainstream (Christian doctrine and western philosophy). Their principle insists of equality between animal and human as they believe that both humans and animals can suffer thus animal should not be mistreated. Bentham and Mill urged that although animals and human must be treated in the same way but there are factual differences between them that often will justify different in treatment. For example human have intellectual capacities than animal, thus human duty to promote enjoyment or to remove any unhappiness for the animal. This fact also causing limitation to the normal custom activities in treating the animal or use them for any purpose. Peter Singer is a contemporary utilitarian argued about experiment using animal based could caused terrible suffering. Further the contemporary utilitarian cannot tell the truth about those particular experiments. The experiment about "learned helplessness" using dog as the subject was found as important test and lead to long term benefit for mentally ill. However as mention by the author that we can not simply assume the justification to the animal base experiment is simple matter because it is too subjective to measure animal feeling and yet most important is the fact that they are not human. Singer also point out about some information system of meat production which he claimed that causes great suffering for animal therefore he conclude that we should become vegetarians. However there is no detail literature to support the explanation given by Singer. One may claim that some other places could provide well treatment for the system of meat production such as sophisticated slaughterhouse, clean working place, educated worker, healthy food and comfortable room for the animal. I speculate that utilitarianism doctrines will always continuously facing more contradiction and challenge argument especially among religious doctrine or some well known tradition societies whether the morality value is right or wrong. Up to some extent of our human intelligent have some limitation to realize certain unpredictable of future knowledge, values, reason and event. In that sense as a human we should accept whatsoever tragedy maybe as a god test, or enhancing valuable knowledge and experience to us. I as a religious people always believe that living in earth is just temporary life or just a beginning toward going to the eternal live with doing good deeds and prevent evil deeds.
The book is a brief introduction to ethics. It discusses several ethical expressions. The book I have got hold on is in Swedish ("Rätt eller fel?"), hence the expressions in English might not correspond to the ones in the English version. I conclude a number of chapters that were of special interest for me.
One of the ones I focused on and is interested in is "Cultural relativism". This principle suggests that different cultures cannot be compared with each-other in terms of "better" and "worse". This is highly hot potato at the moment, with the world becoming more global. The authors seem to have a critical view on this principal as they discuss several controversial cultural phenomena, such as female genital mutilation, murdering of infants, etc, and point out that a culture relativist will fail to criticize such inhuman acts. However, the authors actually mention positive aspects with the principles, the first that it reminds us that our customs are cultural products and there is no absolute rational norm.
Furthermore, it also preaches a free mind and makes you more open for other cultures than your own. I
believe, although some amount of cultural relativism is necessary, do the people of other cultures a
disservice. An interesting example is the "honor-killings" that took place in Sweden a decade ago. Here in Uppsala a female with Kurdish background got murdered by her father because he disliked the fact that she had a boyfriend. Strict cultural relativism would imply that one can not criticize these extreme acts of a specific culture. That would bring harm to the affected individuals, e.g. the threatened girls in this case. One should be able to argue cultural phenomena without claiming that one culture is inferior to another.
Another topic is the question whether there are "absolute moral laws"? This question has puzzled me
before so this chapter was of great interest for me. The ideas of Immanuel Kant are presented which
advocates existence of absolute moral. There are moral rules that cannot, no matter consequences, be
broken. An example discussed in the book is to lie. Now, there is easy to find situations where one
could argue that the moral and correct action is to lie (such as saving a life). Kant argues that as you might never know the consequences of your actions, you're to blame if you brake an unbreakable moral rule. The authors face Kant's counter-arguments, according to me in an elegant way, by claiming that humans do till some extend actually know the consequences of their actions.
In general the book raises many though-worthy questions. The historical and real-life examples give
the reader a good perspective. However, it would be nice to go deeper into the subjects but I guess that is out of scope for this book.
Mona Riza Mohd Esa
A well written-understandable facts-fruitful examples-pleasingly philosophical flow book by both Rachels was worth to be read. I have read the whole book generally but my intention was to read more focused on some chapters, which I found to be extra catchy and interesting.
In obtaining absolute rules, one has to think about how to avoid violating the absolute rules. It always happen when some conflict of rules was met. One can argue that this rule was the best solution leads to their action regardless on the other side, that particular rule was the worst and thought that another way of solution shall be the best one or better, at least. Numbers of examples has been illustrated clearly in order to lead to a better way of understanding. One that really interesting, killing babies for Eskimos´ was thought to be the best solution in order to survive, however, it was not the right things to do in other people´s thought. In my mind, one way that this problem can be settled is by not getting pregnant in the first place, so no babies will be killed in the end. Another example that took my attention was the atomic bomb dropped onto Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan during World War II ordered by the 33rd of United State President. He claimed that was the best solution for shorten the wartime and save more life. Yet, for Elizabeth Anscombe which was an Oxford´s student during the WWII, believed this action was considered as murder and Truman was a truly a murderer for ordering that. Instead of dropping the atomic bomb, a negotiation shall be a better solution, which will probably be accepted by the Japanese. This the other way of telling the action done by Truman was ravaging the absolute rule.
Knowing that the unexceptional rules is not easy to be defended as simple as by putting some arguments to support of some reason a severe consequences shall be prevented. But in order to be as rigid as the rule can possibly be, one can only depended that the rules were commanded by God. No one can argue that, I believed and agreed. Because I know, God always knew the reason why that rules should be followed, unquestionably.
Then, when Kant said that human value was "above all price", I can really understood that he was comparing human and animal, where people have their own goals, desire and the most important thing was dignity, which placed more than any other creatures on the earth. However, with respect to nonhuman animal, they have also to be protected and cannot be treated inadequately. Therefore, once he committed crimes, he should be punished accordingly. However, the principle that been held by Utilitarian believed that punishment shall not be practiced because it treat people wrongly by quoting "all punishment is mischief, all punishment in itself is evil". For me, this is ridiculous because I believed one supposed to be punished once he done something against the rules. That´s why I strongly stand with Kant´s Retribuvism ideology where any wrongdoers shall be punish once crime is committed and the importance of level of punishment that shall be proportionately with the level of committed crimes as well as capital punishment. Then, once realized that, people will be more careful before thinking to do one. That´s also been applied in my religious too.
The book The elements of moral philosophy by Rachels & Rachels aims to explain what morality and ethics are based on the theory of moral philosophy. It uses the most common theories from the pre-Christianity thoughts of Aristoteles to the modern more feministic thoughts of Ancombe. The pro´s and con´s of the theories are clarified by fictive and non-fictive events. The theories are applied to subjects such as racism, religion and animal rights etc. The authors accomplish very well to join the theories/chapters together when discussing one certain event, all though it gets a bit boring sometimes when you have read the same statement 10 times. In the end the book sums up quite nice with the authors combining the information in the book to a common satisfactory (from there point of view) moral theory. Now I will address some points of the book.
One thing I miss with the book is that when the book discusses the importance and influence of religion it almost exclusively does that from the perspective of Christianity. It would be interesting also to see it from the perspective of for example Indian religions. In that sense the book is very biased towards western culture.
One fascinating thing with the book is when the authors describes a theory they start with the positive things that many times made me totally agree with the theory. Then the authors explain the theories deficiency and I realize it is not that good after all. And this happens from time to time when I read the book. Or maybe it happens to me simply because moral philosophy on an academic level is new to me. But in the mean time it is interesting that there are some theories that I fully recognize from real life without ever have read anything about it.
Philosophy can perhaps be seen as ?the science of the unanswerable?, or at least ?the science of the questions too difficult to answer for sure at the current moment in time?, and arguably ethics provide the most difficult dilemmas there could possibly be ? namely, moral ones. As such, I personally cannot think that anyone could feel indifferent about the issues discussed in this book. That is, the book is highly intriguing, and it is so not only because of its inherently interesting subject, but also because I believe it to be very well-written and comprehensive.
For starters, I find the rhetoric rather fascinating. Whatever position Rachels is analyzing, he manages to make me feel ? ?Hey, this is exactly how I think it is!?, only to immediately and completely disintegrate the arguments resulting in the complete opposite opinion. The conclusion is also exactly what one would expect after this, that all philosophies have their respective points, but none is generally valid. The subject of moral philosophy could perhaps stand as the prime example of where the answer always becomes ? ?it depends...?
At the moment I am highly influenced by Systems Thinking and Systems Theory, therefore I cannot avoid making a parallel, something that also seems encouraged by the title stating there are ?elements? of moral philosophy, which then (for me then) are elements within the ?system of thinking?. My current description therefore becomes that the different moral philosophies are based on different views on the character of the ?system of thought? and of the relevant system of concern for which the system of thought is an element itself. For instance, both Utilitarianism and Consequentialism can perhaps be described as being based on the view that the system of though is a well-defined (deterministic) system within an equally well-defined and deterministic social system, although with different operationalizations and conceptions of the dependent variable to optimize (i.e. happiness or consequences). Within such a deterministic system it is (should be) possible to find (or derive) objective facts that either support happiness or undoubtedly lead to certain consequences. The more subjectivist kind of approaches maintain that the systems are not so well-defined and therefore non-deterministic. The systems of concern for the subjective philosophies are not objective in their workings and therefore it is impossible to state who is going to be how much happy or what consequences there actually will be.
The overall conclusion drawn by Rachels, or perhaps one should say the final position advocated by Rachels, is that a plausible moral theory would be what he calls Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism, where the interests of the maximal amount of viewpoints should be taken into account. Personally I find this a bit naive (in the sense of perhaps being more ?politically correct? than practically feasible), but still quite compelling. For me, this book seems likely to function as a good source of arguments and some significant food for thought while I am pursuing some of my consuming passions that are threatening to steal focus from attainable goals for my research ? one such passion is my strong opposition of the very idea that autonomous technology could be something positive, which is the topic of the next abstract...
Another thing that strikes me as new to this area is how difficult and complex this is. Since ethic and moral standards that are the foundation changes as the humans develops over time. This becomes especially clear when comparing the earlier Christianity-influenced moral philosophers to the more secularized philosophers of the 20th century. How would moral philosophy look like if it had not been influenced by religion?
I found this book interesting and think it is a book that everyone should read. It really makes you reflect on the society, yourself and the every day life.
The Elements of Moral Philosophy by James Rachel is a map to a more general consideration on the morality problems otherwise concerns on ethical issues. Some intriguing case study of