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Abstracts I, 29 November; Rachels & Rachels



Reflections upon the book: The elements of moral philosophy (Rachels 1993)

Author, Anette Löfström

The anthology The elements of moral philosophy is written by the American moral philosopher James Rachels. It begins with a reflection upon what morality really means, and it exemplifies with a case where a baby was severely disabled and the parents took the decision not to do a surgery because of the "fact given by a doctor. However; another doctor had a completely opposite standpoint and thought a surgery should be committed and that it would be good for the child. A discussion continues where three arguments are presented, and depending of facts each of them could be regarded as morally "wrong" or "right". For me this essay was incredible important because it is highly up to debate in current media. As late as 20121122 a documentary program was sent at the Swedish public television were a very similar case to the one in the book is described. It was about a family and their young daughter that had been in an accident and suffered from head injuries. The responsible doctor, the so called expertise, told the parents that she would soon be brain dead and she asked the girls family to think about donating her organs. Thereafter all treatment was turned off. However; the girl did not die so after three days they restarted the treatment. The girl woke up and today she is back home and works with her rehab. Precisely like in Rachel´s book this raise question of morality. In the book it was about surgery and in this current case it is about morality related to organ donations. When shall doctors tell the family that their loved one is dying, and when shall they talk about eventual donation?

The moral dilemma is as follows:
If doctors ask the family about organ donation before death they can treat the person for the organs, but this is against Swedish law, and maybe it is immoral to treat a living person as a package of spares? If they do not treat the person for the organs before death, the organs might be destroyed. So is there a moral way to go here? This will be a core issue when I read the rest of the essays.

A perspective that was mentioned in the program was the issue of trust. How is trust related to morality? In the presented case the girl´s mother talked a lot about her loss of trust towards medical care per se. In parallel with the presented dilemma I will read the rest with my "trust-glasses" on. However; this is just a short discussion of Rachel´s book, so I pick a few relevant examples and relate the content to the dilemma as well as to influences of trust.
A perspective that I have thought a lot about is cultural relativism, which means that different cultures have different moral codes. This perspective challenges our belief of the existence of a moral universal truth that simply does not exist. Rather moral are various cultural codes that differ from culture to culture (Ruth Benedict). How is this related to the presented dilemma? It depends of how we define culture. In this case the family can be defined as one culture and society as another. For the family it is likely that the morally right thing to do is to treat the girl as much and as good as possible, since she is an essential part of their family culture. However; the doctor who decided to end the treatment and wait for death might have identified with a broader cultural group. As such she had a broader morality like: "we cannot save her but we save another person instead". In this cultural aspect her decision can be regarded as morally correct, but related to pure fact (as moral should be according to Rachel) it was wrong. It might even have damaged the girl´s brain even more. So; in one cultural aspect it was morally correct and in another it was wrong. Then: what are the implications of trust loss following this episode? One risk is of course that trust towards all kinds of organ donation might be reduced. People who have agreed to donate their loved one´s organs might live the rest of their lives wondering if the person could have been alive if they had said no. This trust issue might also lead to the death of many people who are waiting for organs, because we hesitate to say yes to donation from people we love. This discussion suggests that trust, culture and moral are closely related and mutual influential. However; my discussion here could be regarded as an aspect of the critiqued perspective ethical subjectivism (see Hume, pg 33). This is the idea that moral opinions are based on our feelings and nothing more, or as Hume expresses it: "On this view, there is no such thing as `objective´ right or wrong (Hume). Even if my reasoning above can be regarded as ethical subjectivism this perspective in itself is limited, at least in the context I have here because the view "objective" must be applied to the question objective for whom? The doctor probably regards her standpoint as morally objective while the family most likely is driven by feelings. Does this make them ethically subjective and if so: what are the relation between cultural relativism and ethical subjectivity?
This discussion reveals that there is an immanent and severe complexity in moral and ethics, especially if we include perspectives like culture, trust, subjectivity and so on. Decisions that is morally correct for a person in one cultural category might be ethical subjectivism or even morally wrong for another person in another cultural category. If we should include other perspectives that are discussed in Rachel´s book the complexity would be even worse; for example Kant´s respect for persons and human dignity. What if we include animals in our cultural identifications; could we do research on these cute and feeling living creatures then? Through exclusions of animals from human moral circles we motivate moral actions that would be immoral if we included animals as one of us. I wonder how the family who almost lost their daughter had thought about doing test on animals in order to rescue their daughter. Would it have been morally right for them, and what would the doctor have done?

My answer to the question in the presented dilemma is: The complexity shows that it is very unlikely to find a moral correct way to go.

Hofstede, G., G Hofstede, . J., and M Minkov. 2010. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the mind. Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for survival. third edition ed: Mc Graw Hill.
Rachels, J. 1993. The elements of moral philosophy. Edited by Regan. T. second ed ed, The Heritage Series in Philosophy. North Carolina.


Differing Cultural Codes: Due to Facts or to Values?

One way (there are many) to explain what questions philosophy deals with is that of 1) reality: what is? (ontology) and 2) morality: what is right and what is wrong? (ethics). I think these two philosophical fields are very much interlinked. Rachels & Rachels probably agree but my impression is that they do not stress this matter as much as I think it deserves.

In R&R´s chapter on Cultural Relativism there is a key sentence; "[A]lso, when customs differ, the underlying reason will often have more to do with the factual beliefs of the cultures than with their values" (2007, p.32). And in the introductory chapter and almost by-the-way, R&R claims "that the first thing is to get one´s facts straight", and that this is "often not as easy as it sounds" .(2007, p.12). In the review of Emotivism R&R quote Charles Stevenson´s rather messy definition of diverging facts and values - messy in the sense that you have to read it several times and still not being convinced of what he tries to explain - as "disagreement in attitude" and "disagreement about attitudes" (2007, p.41).

The question of infanticide, and the closely related topic of abortion being discussed by R&R in several contexts would have gained by an analyses based on the separation of facts and values. To exemplify cultural relativism R&R point to the tradition of the Eskimos/Inuits of sometimes killing their newborn children, and in particular the girls. After a lot of explanations about the severity of the conditions of life in the arctic, R&R concludes that "infanticide did not signal a fundamentally different attitude toward children" but from the needs "to ensure the family´s survival" (2007, p.25).

R&R seem to ignore that the harshness of the conditions of survival was a recurrent situation in most European regions (and maybe in other parts of the world as well) up to the nineteenth century when conditions of life improved. Due to plagues, warfare and famines the demographical situation remained extremely critical, however, there was no generalised strategy to improve conditions of life through infanticide. Thus there must be another explanation to the infanticide by the Eskimos.

Next issue. To counter the strict rejecting of abortion by the Catholic Church, R&R tries in a lengthy text to relativize it by pointing to the Church´s varying attitudes during the ages to the status of the foetus (2007, pp.62-67). I think the approach is promising but also disappointing when they conclude in terms of religious authority and moral judgements, but not how the view of the foetus as expression of human life (ontology) affects morality.

My argument is that abortion and infanticide, as discussed in R&R is not a question of different moral standards as suggested, but can only be understood in different notions of human life. Killing postulates life. From R&R we can deduce two definitions of human life in terms of when it comes into being: 1) the moment of conception, and 2) the birth.

A third definition can be found in psychodynamic theory. This theory speaks of the first period of the newborn child, called the oral stage. It is characterised by a continued dependency on the mother, not unlike the situation in the womb. First in the later part of its first year does the child develop an awareness of itself as a distinct person, an "I". Thus the third definition of human life is linked to the development of a human as subject. With this perspective one can claim that there is no ethical difference between an abortion on the one hand and the killing of a newborn child on the other hand.

The next question is whether the Eskimos were aware of the psychodynamic theories? The fact that they according to R&R did not kill children of 1year or more, may indicate that they intuitively had a such understanding.

Conclusion: As a rule, humans do not kill their children. Abortion and infanticide is not a moral but an ontological issue.



Rachels: The elements of moral philosophy
Mareike Glöss

In “The Elements of Moral Philosophy” Rachels’ introduces basic concepts of modern morality. Thereby he focuses strongly on introducing the reader to a “minimum conception of morality”, which means that he emphasizes that moral should be build on two key elements: Reasoning – all morals must be backed up by arguments – and impartiality – all individual interests have to be taken into consideration.
He introduces the reader to different concepts of modern philosophy and at the same time demonstrating the application of these two key elements: For each concept he shows the arguments of all parties involved. At the same time he shows how the different argumentations can be structured and how logical consistent reasoning can prove or disprove each side’s arguments . This is done either in form of case studies that illustrate each respective approach along an actual (or made up) case. Or it is done along the argumentations in favor or against a certain theory, made by different philosophers. Each chapter works thereby as an independent essay that can be read independently.

Rachels begins his book by introducing some more popular concepts of morality. These concepts are often discussed in the public and he exemplifies along examples how insufficient some of the arguments in these discussions made are. For instance, he discusses the popular assumption that religion is congruent with morality. Therefore he introduces two – in the public probably generally unknown – theological concepts of Divine Command and the Theory of Natural Law. He shows that the first one actually contradicts itself while the second one actually supports a moral reasoning of the human and thereby shows that morality is in fact an independent matter and not tied solely to religion. In the same way he discusses the concepts of psychological and ethical egoism before he goes over to the more central part of his book where he starts describing the four central concepts of moral philosophy in modernity: Utilitarianism, Kantianism, the Social Contract and the Ethics of Virtue.

Utilitarianism builds on the idea that the foundation of every moral reasoning is the happiness or unhappiness of individuals. The utilitaristic approach seeks to reach the optimal state in which as many as possible are happy. From this state can be derived all moral decisions. This approach has not remained uncritisized, for instance that those actions that create the best possible outcome in terms of happiness does not necessarily works according to justice. However, there have been also arguments for its defense, for instance of those that argue that all the shortcomings against utilitarianism do not matter, since the essence of it – happiness for many - stands over everything per definitionem.

Kantianism is based on the concept of moral rules. Kant introduced a categorical imperative from which all rules for moral decisions can be derived. This categorical imperative stated that decisions should be taken in a way that the action taken could become a general law. Rachels discusses some other implications of Kant’s arguments but also shows that his desire for absolute rules – such as that lying would always be wrong – made his overall argument weak. However, his big influence on modern day morality can be explained through the element of rationalism that he has brought into moral philosophy.

Another moral philosophy that came with the enlightenment was the Social Contract Theory, originally introduced by Hobbes. Hobbes built his reasoning on a fictious historical setting. In a state of nature everyone would be egoistic and just follow his own interest, which would be on an overall level less beneficial for the individual. Therefore a Social Contract is established that sets certain rules and power is consigned to a government. The state created exists in order to enforce rules for social living. Morality however, consists of these rules. Rachels names two major points of critique for this approach. First of all it is based on historical fiction. But more importantly, it is not well applicable for everyday moral issues.

While the social contract theory is dealing with morality on a societal level the ethics of virtue underlines the role of the individual. This moral philosophy is based on Greek philosophy but was later replaced by Christian belief in a divine command. In the ethics of virtue virtues are seen as “traits of characters, manifested in habitual action, that is good for a person to have”. Therefore this moral philosophy works on a very individual and everyday level. Rachels lists some of these virtues, such as courage and loyality. He explains that some philosophers argue for a more radical ethics of virtue that instead shall replace the other moral philosophies. However, he argues that such a philosophy could have the advantage of combining the essences of the other three approaches and resolving the issue of impartiality.

1 For instance by pointing out circular arguments – even though, unfortunately, he does not uses the term, it would have made things easier for the inexperienced reader
2 Here it should also be considered that Hobbes and Rousseaus argumentation was directed towards arguing for an alternative to absolutism.



In "The Elements of Moral Philosophy", Rachels (and, lest we forget, Rachels) introduces the big questions of moral philosophy, and surveys the most significant (western) attempts to address these questions.

The ways in which moral theories are similar are dealt with immediately: moral judgements must be rational, and must treat all people impartially. Beyond these two strictures, apparently moral theories disagree more than they agree. Religious theories like Natural Law and Divine Command are quite different from Kant's categorical imperative, but they at least all agree that moral laws are absolute, a point that subjectivism and utilitarianism would not be willing to concede. The latter pair diverges on the question of universality: if moral rules are the product of individual societies, how can we ever hope to judge what is best for the most people? Meanwhile, ethical egoism holds that altruism is evil, a view that cannot be reconciled with, indeed is almost the polar opposite of, the demand of the social contract that the individual relinquish part of his desires in order to maintain society itself. Bentham's utility and Kant's categorical imperative seem similar enough at first; nevertheless, reasoning strictly from these starting points the two men invented very different philosophies. For every philosophy discussed, we are confronted with its failings: subjectivism's ultimate inability to decide that anything is immoral, utilitarianism's denial of the significance of family, the social contract's failure to protect the vulnerable, Kant's unwillingness to allow that rules might have exceptions, and ethical egoisms... well, pretty much everything about ethical egoism appears to be a ridiculous failure.

In the end, perhaps the most intriguing suggestion comes in the chapter on feminism: is it possible that centuries of debate, covering such a wide sweep of western thought, have only looked at half of the problem? Are all of the carefully constructed logical systems of men hopelessly unrealistic, unable to handle the simple truths of family, friendship, and caring?



In the book 'Elements of Moral Philosophy', the author (J. Rachels) aims to give students an introduction to the field of just that, moral philosophy.

In the first chapter, the reader is motivated by a set of problems in which moral philosophy and ethics play a major role. For example, Rachels discusses the problem of an anencephalic baby, whose organs cannot be donated because she is not legally brain dead. How should, optimally, the parents and doctors act in this case? Is it morally right by the parents to wish to donate the baby's organs? Is the baby to be counted as a thinking, sensing person even though she has no brain? Is it really a good idea to let the baby's organs go to waste by not allowing them to be donated to other children?

After this initial chapter, the author continues by presenting different theories that can be used to determine the best course of action in difficult circumstances as the one described above, and indeed in any decision-making process, regardless of its importance. There is also a chapter about religion and morality, which I found interesting, though somewhat lacking in that the author refers (mostly, if not only) to Christianity and Judaism. Perhaps this reflects the intended audience of the book and their (limited) familiarity with different religions.

In another interesting chapter, Rachels summarizes cultural relativism and the pitfalls that come with using it as a basis for discussing morality. If nothing is absolute, as cultural relativism proposes, then we can actually never judge whether an action is morally right or wrong. There is no way to decide on the course of action when an action is morally right according to one culture, but morally wrong according to another. The author gives the concrete example of one culture honoring Grandpa by cremating him, and being horrified at the thought of eating him, and another culture honoring Grandpa by eating him, being horrified at the thought of burning him.

After this, the author discusses psychological egoism, ethical egoism, and utilitarianism, followed by a chapter on absolute moral rules. He devotes a chapter to Kant and a discussion about the theory of punishment. He discusses the evolution of the prison system from being instruments of retribution to being institutions where prisoners are supposed to be rehabilitated and eventually able to rejoin society, and the philosophical principles behind this.

The chapter about social contracts is very interesting and comes with a description of the Prisoners' Dilemma, in which two people have to decide on the best course of action without knowing what the other person will choose. It is used as an example of how sometimes what seems like the best course of action for an individual will actually not be the best course of action, since an even better result can be obtained by collaborating with other people, i.e., by some form of a social contract.

After two chapters on the ethics of care and the ethics of virtue, the book concludes with a chapter in which the author attempts to summarize the requirements for a satisfactory moral theory. Here, Rachels argues for 'multiple-strategies utilitarianism' as a means of unifying the moral theories described earlier in the book.


This book gives an introduction to ethics with plenty of real- life examples and sufficient analyses. The analyses are not only about errors or arbitrariness of a theory , but also tell what we can learn from the theory or advantages. The book came up with widely a number of moral theories and topics, including Cultural relativism, Subjectivism, Morality and religion, Nature law, Ethical egoism, Social contract, Utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, and Deontology, Virtue ethics, Feminism and the Ethics of Care, etc.
Here I wrote down the most important things that I thought for some topics in the following paragraphs.
The lessons from Cultural relativism is to understand that morality is related to cultural traditions and we should keep an open eye to different ideas and cultural tradition.
One of the objections of Subjectivism is the truth or falsity of typical moral judgments does not depend upon the beliefs or feelings of any person or group of persons.
Morality and religion are somehow related, but the thing is 'old' religion traditions meet more challenges, since definitions to rightness/wrongness, of which some human activities, are vague or undefined.
Ethical egoism suggests that a person ought to do what really is in his or her best interests, this theory is really 'old-fashion', and 'unusual' things are not morally wrong. Psychological Egoism states that each person does in fact always do what is in his or her best interest alone, Psychological Egoism is not true under Altruism and it doesn't help Ethical egoism in anyway.
Utilitarianism states that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes a specific good. Following theory Utilitarianism, it happens that individual's rights (or interests) will be damaged (or ignored).
Kant´s Ethical Theory is based on moral duty, his belief in the need to be able to universal moral decisions, which led to the principle of the categorical imperative. For a society, there must be some common scene like protecting children, however if all moral rules are absolute then, they are become problematic. His ideas in punishment are also problematic, and I don't think that one can use a human merely as a means.
Social contract has some advantage than absolute moral rules, it works somehow like a conditional moral rules. It's good for reasoning that why we make such a choice, and it seems an acceptable moral theory. However, it met difficulties, since it's based on historical fictions and it denies the moral standing of those who cannot replicate to, for example: mentally incompetent people.
Virtues are important since it stands for things that fulfills people's life. Virtues theory are incomplete which I mean it doesn't solve conflict cases.
In the last chapter, the authors also discussed about how a satisfied moral theory would be like. The multiple-strategies utilitarianism theory, which the author came up with, seems have really strong assumptions, which means to hide conflicts of personality interests. Well, this topic is quite interesting. I think the reason why such a theory is so difficult is that the views that how people look into one thing differs from period to period. As societies developing, solutions to conflicts are found (or some conflicts disappeared), while new problems come out. So hardly can a theory cover everything, from past to future.



The author starts out by stating that finding a simple, uncontroversial definition of morality is impossible and instead argues that a "minimum conception" of morality should be present in every moral theory. Rachels concludes that this minimum conception of morality is to strive for one's decisions to be guided by reason, and to give equal weight to the interests of anyone affected by these decisions.
He then proceeds by explaining that different cultures have different moral codes, and that while trying to compare the morality of one culture with another is basically impossible, because it requires the existence of an independent standard for right and wrong, there are still a basic set of moral codes that must be present in any culture in order for society to function. After presenting this in the context of Cultural Relativity, highlighting it's shortcomings and lessons to be learned from it, Rachels moves on to subjectivism in ethics.
Ethical Subjectivism and it's "improved version" Emotivism are portrayed as being an attempt to argue that moral judgements are merely opinions based on an individuals feelings and cannot be compared with one another. Rachels replies to this by linking back to the minimum conception of morality, stating that while moral judgements may be based on feelings they may also be based on reasons; and the reasons backing a judgement can be accepted as better or worse than the reasons backing competing judgements.
Rachels tackle the question of whether morality depend on religion by concluding that while there is a complicated relationship between religion and morality, they are still different subjects.
Before discussing Ethical Egoism, Rachels present the psychological theory of Psychological Egoism which states that an individual is always exclusively pursuing what is in his or her own best interest. The theory of Ethical Egoism, on the other hand, states that this ought to be the case. Ethical Egoism advocates the division of humanity into two groups with the individual in one and everyone else in the other, and that the interest of the individual should always be regarded as more important. Failing to find compelling reasoning behind why this should be the case, Rachels dismiss the theory as arbitrary.
Moving on, Rachels discuss shortcomings and lessons to be learned from the Social Contract Theory, different flavors of Utilitarianism, Kant's Categorical Imperative, Virtue Ethics, and a few others. Even though each theory has it's points, ultimately Rachels finds that none of these theories are self-sufficient as a satisfactory moral theory. In the final chapter he argues that the closest attempt at a complete theory might be called "Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism", where he recognize that the final goal should be to maximize the general welfare, while keeping in mind that different strategies are necessary to pursue this goal.

Benny Avelin,


In this book Rachels tries do explain what morality is, first by describing a couple of examples regarding children with birth defects. Then he goes on to describe the minimal concept of morality. Namely that morality is, at the very least, the effort to guide one's conduct by reason, while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual who will be affected by what one does.

The biggest part of the book consists of describing the different moral theories that has been constructed throughout the history. The first ones considered are Cultural relativism and Ethical Subjectivism, both of them are flawed in essentially the same way, basically that they can not be used to solve conflicts, and the fact that basically everybody is right, they either have different cultures or different feelings.

The author goes on to argue that morality should be something more than feelings and culture, but should be based on rationality of man.

Rachels describes the concept of Psychological egoism, which is a very suggestive theory, since basically any scenario can be made to resonate with the theory, however reasoning along these lines is treacherous, and ultimately cannot account for our morality.

The Utilitarian theory, which is a part of a revolution in ethics, can be compactly written as the morally right course of action is the one that creates happiness for most people, however under this theory it is ok to sacrifice, and also it is ok to do things that are obviously appalling if no one gets unhappy about it. Certainly something is aloof here.

The theory of Social contract, is in contrast to Utility in that it states that

"Morality consists in the set of rules, governing how people are to treat on another, that rational people will agree to accept, for their mutual benefit, on the condition that others follow those rules as well".

The social contract theory is an important theory in modern philosophy, as it "solves" problems such as the prisoners dilemma, however Rachels goes on to argue that all moral theories described clarifies some concepts, but confuses others. Social contract theory is closely connected to duty, however this of course does not account for feelings, and as such can seem at ends with reality.

To account for this problem, is the Ethics of care, which handles situations like family life and friends in a satisfactory manner, something which most theories have difficulties with, but again this theory confuses other matters, for example it does not oblige you to take care of others if you do not have a personal relation to them.

Rachels brings up the Ethics of Virtue, hence a person is good if this person has good virtues, for example, courage, generosity and truthfulness.

Lastly Rachels address the issue of how a complete moral theory would look like, and that it is essential that it be without Hubris. However finding a theory, which accounts for morality, is a question, which has eluded philosophers for millennia´s.

Ruth Lochan,


The Elements of Moral Philosophy
by Rachels (4th edition)
The book consists of 14 chapters, each of which can be read independently of the whole and each providing the reader with an introduction to a philosophical element. The text is highly fused with the author´s opinions on the particular matter. In the first chapter the author discussed the concept of morality and ends with providing a minimal definition: "the effort to guide one´s conduct by reason - that is, to do what there are the best reasons for doing- while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual who will be affected by what one does". The 2nd chapter dealt with "Cultural Relativism", where "different cultures have different moral codes". However, the author further stated that "all cultures have some values in common" and these rules are necessary for the society to exist. The 3rd chapter is about subjectivism in ethics, where "moral opinions are based on our feelings and nothing else". The 4th chapter deals with the controversial topic of Morality and Religion and after presenting inconsistences between the Scriptures and Church traditions concluded that morality and religion are different. Chapter 5 is on aspects of Psychological Egoism such as unselfishness and motives. The main arguments are that we always do what we want to do and we always do what makes us feel good. Ethical Egoism is the topic of chapter 6, and according to the author we divide the world into two categories of people, ourselves and all the rest; however this concept is both arbitrary and unacceptable. The 7th chapter is on David Hume Utilitarian Approach, which asks the question: considering the choices which would have the best overall consequences? In chapter 8 the author discussed the debate over the widely accepted theory of utilitarianism. The next chapter is about absolute moral rules and continues into chapter 10 discussing Kant and respect for persons. Following this the author writes about Social Contract Theory, highlighting the work of Hobbes such as the intriguing case of the Prisoner´s Dilemma. Social Contract Theory, Utilitarianism, Kantianism and Virtual Theory are four major options in current moral philosophy. Feminism and the Ethics of Care are presented in chapter 12, beginning with a discussion on the differences between men and women, what impact these differences have on moral judgment and ethical theory. The Ethics of Virtue is the topic of chapter 13 and the author lists 24 "virtues". In the last chapter the author asked what would a satisfactory moral theory be like and proposed some aspects such a theory should include. Overall in the text, the author´s opinions, which I may not necessarily agree with, are interwoven with established theories and too many interesting and practical concepts of explaining morality and human behavior.

Tao Qin,


moral philosophy[The elements of moral philosophy (Rachels 1993)]
The anthology The elements of moral philosophy is written by the American moral philosopher James Rachels.
One of his purposes to deal with ethical dilemma and give us a logical results. You knew there must be a lot of ethical dilemma in our lives.
Here is an example of moral dilemma:
My friend is involved to choose a project recently. He is PHD student in the chemistry department. There is an ethical dilemma I am very confused!
The first project is much more difficult for him to finish according to what he has studied before, because it is involved with basic physics theory. In fact, he knows nothing about physic theory. This project just funds him and his department some money, but not too much. However he will have more chances to publish, culture his independent research ability and own a lot of job opportunities after accomplishment. If he does this spending a lot of times to study physic, his life will be stressful and boring.
This second project looks much easier compared with project one. The aim of this project is to synthesize a kind of chemical powder and sold to some countries. This is traditional chemistry project and he has clear procedure to do this. It will provide a large amount of money 10 times as much as project one. This is the reason why his supervisor and department suggest strongly and promise a lot of help when facing problems. Moreover, he can finish this project soon and has sufficient time to find more interesting potential project. Incredibly, his supervisor promises his job opportunity after accomplishment. However, he knows the products will pollute environment, difficult to degrade and have a long term negative effect in some countries. Accidentally, he finds it is high possibility to apply to his home country.
The moral judgements and decision must be rational, and must treat all people(who are relative to his life and affecting his decision) impartially!
The book mentioned two different theory in the moral theory.
One is the Utilitarian theory:
Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility, specifically defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering.
The morally right course of action is the one that creates happiness for most people, here just for his future and his hometown suffering.
Another theory is `The theory of Social contract´, which is in contrast to Utility in that it states that
"Morality consists in the set of rules, governing how people are to treat on another, that rational people will agree to accept, for their mutual benefit, on the condition that others follow those rules as well".
In this case, he has to consider how his decision will affcet his friend, his supervisor and his department. Whatever he chooses, I think `the theory of Social contract´ and `the Utilitarian theory´ may explain the consequence!



The elements of moral philosophy is an introduction to moral philosophy with the intended
audience of individuals interested enough to read a book about it (p. ix). It is not a complete
exposition of the topic, but Rachels try to introduce the topics that are most important to
confront, discuss and disagree among. The book consists of 14 chapters, that can either be
read independently or as a continuous story, and include a presentation of the four major
options in current moral philosophy: Utilitarianism, Kantianism, Virtue Theory and Social
Contract Theory. What I will take with me from reading Rachels is partly his comment on
cultural relativism: “we can accept these points without going on to accept the whole theory”
(p. 31). To form a moral theory by which one lives might be to cherry-pick from different
philosophies, as long as you understand how and why. So how would a satisfactory moral
theory be formulated? Many have tried, but most have only partially succeeded.
Chapter 1 (What is morality?) starts of with ‘the problem of definition’, where Rachels
conclude that any definition beyond Socrates’s ‘how we ought to live’ is impossible. A
minimum conception could be formulated as “the effort to guide one's conduct by reason -
that is, to do what there are the best reasons for doing - while giving equal weight to the
interests of each individual who will be affected by what one does” (p.14). A disagreement on
this minimal conception is more often about how it should be modified or expanded.
According to Bentham what matters is the aggregate of happiness at all not for anyone
particular, “morality is just the attempt to bring about as much happiness as possible in this
world” (p. 92). Mill formulated it as we as individuals must, in case of choice, “ask what
course of conduct would promote the greatest amount of happiness for all those who will be
affected” (p. 93). At the time utilitarianism was kind of revolutionary since it left out God
from morality. According to utilitarianism unjustifiable restrictions should not be taken on
people’s right to control their own lives, as long as there is no harm done to others.
One of the most foundational parts of utilitarianism is that only consequences matter (p.
105). This could be put against Anscombes “there are some things that may not be done, no
matter what” and “any rule may be broken, if the circumstances demand it”, where
Anscombe replies that one should “not be tempted by fear or hope of consequences” (pp.
119). Kant believed that moral rules were absolute, with the categorical imperative: “Act only
according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a
universal law” (p.121). Kant’s philosophy builds on humans as rational agents, with the power
and responsibility of choice.
The social contract theory of morals claim that “morality consists in the set of rules governing
how people are to treat one another that rational will agree to accept, for their mutual benefit,
on the condition that others those rules as well” (p. 150). Virtue theory emphasises that the
right action is not enough; there is a need for personal qualities to account of the moral life
(p. 186). It meets impartiality with that there is no need of a general requirement; there are
different virtues with relations (p. 187).
So how does this matter to me? Hume claimed that human life is unimportant from a
universal perspective, but not from the individuals perspective (p. 192). No matter that, a
Teacher:+Iordanis+Kavathatzopoulos+ + +++++++++++++Student:+Maria+Svedin,
moral decision is not based in time or space, and consequences should be taken into account
but the ends do not justify the means. “Moral judgments require backing by reasons, and in
the absence of such reasons, they are merely arbitrary” (p.40). Morality is “a system of rules
that one must follow from a sense of duty, regardless of one's wants or desires” (p.127). I
can’t make my own rules to achieve the results that I want and have to live by the social
contract in my conduction of research.
Rachels, J. (2003). The elements of moral philosophy. 4th ed. McGraw-Hill.



PhD Course Technology, research and ethics
Abstract paper \Philosophy"
Christiane Grüunloh
Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, Sweden
Cologne University of Applied Sciences (CUAS), Germany
November 26, 2012
The fourth edition of the book \The Elements of Moral Philosophy" was published in 2002 and introduces on a broad level the main concepts and theories with regard to morality. As indicated in the preface, \Philosophy, like morality itself, is first and last an exercise in reason", which is applied in the following chapters, when Rachels discusses the sometimes very controversial concepts and theories. According to Rachels due to rival theories there is no simple, uncontroversial de^Lnition of what morality is [1, p. 1]. Rachel concludes that moral judgements have to be backed up by good reasons and that \morality requires the impartial consideration of each individual's interests" [1, p. 11]. Rachels comes up with a Minimum Conception of Morality: \Morality, is at the very least, the effort to guide one's conduct by reason [...] while giving equal weight to the interest of each individual who will be affected by what one does." [1, p. 14].
The idea behind cultural relativism is, that because of various cultural codes there can't be an objective standard for everyone and that our own cultural code has no special status [1, p. 18]. Rachels enumerates some claims made by cultural relativists and then continues with the identification where Cultural Relativism is correct and where it is mistaken. For example if taken seriously, cultural relativism would eliminate the possibility to criticise of other cultures. But some practices might be wrong, wherever they occur. So a disagreement about morality doesn't mean that there is no moral truth at all. Despite the mistakes, some lessons can be learned from cultural relativism, for example that it helps to avoid arrogance and keeping an open mind.
Ethical Subjectivism states, that moral opinion are solely based on feelings and if someone labels an action as bad, the person just expresses his negative feelings towards those actions. Subjectivism evolved in two stages: Simple Subjectivism (person approves or disapproves the subject) and Emotivism (used first to influence other people's behavior and second to express one's attitude). Focusing on attitudes and feelings can lead to a disregard of reason and moral thinking.
Since morality and religion are often regarded as inseparable, religious people, especially priests and ministers, are often treated as moral experts. With regard to the relation between religious authority and moral judgement, Rachels emphasise that \morality is a matter of reason and conscience, not religious face; and in any case, religious considerations do not provide definitive solutions to the specific moral problems that confront us" [1, p. 62]. He didn't mean to question the validity of religion, but came up with arguments, that showed that \morality remains an independent matter".
According to the Psychological Egoism, \every human action is motivated by self-interest". To remain in accordance to this theory, motives are reinterpreted, so that every seemingly selfless action would have been motivated by self-interest. Rachels clears up some confusions (selfishness vs. self-interest, and self-interested behavior vs. pursuit of pleasure) and concludes that \it is false that all actions are selfish" and \that all actions are done from self-interest". In addition he claims that there \is no inconsistency in desiring that everyone, including oneself and others, be happy". But the deepest error in Psychological Egoism is, that it is irrefutable and once \it becomes the controlling assumption that all behavior is self-interested, everything that happens can be interpreted to fit this assumption". Rachels concluded then that \the thought that there is but a single motive cannot be sustained". [1, p. 71ff]
According to the Utilitarian Approach, choosing between to actions means to determine which one has the best overall consequences for everyone concerned. So the goal is to achieve the greatest amount of happiness for all those people involved or affected and each person's happiness count as equally important. [1, p. 91ff] But it is questioned if happiness is the only important thing. There are some issues, which show the shortcomings: justice, rights, exclusion of backward-looking considerations, undermining personal relationships and abandoning ordinary lives. Rule-Utilitarism, that emphasises the justification of rules rather on the justification of acts, response to some of
these issue, because it fits in with intuitive judgement. [1, p. 105ff]
Related to the issues of the Utilitarian Approach, the question is raised, if there are absolute moral rules, which have to be followed without exceptions. While some philosophers claim, that there are some things that may not be done (no matter what), others disagree insisting, that depending on the circumstances any rule might be broken. [1, p. 117ff] In this regard Rachels introduces the Categorical Imperative by Kant, who stated that one should act \only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law". [1, p. 120ff] Rachels sums up the problem with exceptions to rules that moral judgements must be backed by good reasons and violating an accepted rule requires good reasons, which are acceptable by everyone else in the same position. [1, p. 128]
The Social Contract Theory is on of the four major options in current moral philosophy (besides Utilitarism, Kantianism and Virtue Theory). It conceptualises morality independent from God, moral facts or natural altruism as a \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 rule as well". The theory provides simple answers to some difficult questions, because the key idea is, that the morally binding rules are the ones that are necessary for social living. One issue of this theory concerns animals, because they can't officially participate in the contract and therefore wouldn't be taken into moral considerations. [1, p. 141ff]
The Ethics of Virtue focuses rather on the character than on specific actions; so a moral person has certain traits of character. The ethics of care is one part of the ethics of virtue and allows for an explanation of the nature of moral relations with friends and family. [1, p. 168, 172] A virtue is defined as a trait of character, manifested in habitual action, that it is good for a person to have. Rachel concludes that this theory should be supplemented by another theory, because standing alone it can't help handling cases of moral confliicts. [1, p. 176ff]
In the last chapter Rachels tries to answer the question, what a satisfactory moral theory be like: A morality without hubris (human beings are not the centre of the universe but rather one species among many), morality is a matter of acting on reason, people should be treated as they deserve, take other morally important motives into account, act from combination of diverse strategies and motives that best promote the general welfare (Multiple-Strategies Utilitarism), expansion of moral community across space, time and the boundaries of species and take justice and fairness into account. [1, p. 191ff]
[1] James Rachels. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. McGraw-Hill, 4th edition, 2002.



`The elements of Moral Philosophy´
Fourth Edition
J. Rachels
Based on facts, logics and silently accepted axioms, Rachels is offering an open-minded and concern- rising description and judgment of the most dominant/ well known/ widely accepted Ethics theories.
There is no definition about what morality is, but a suggestion that whatever is considered as `moral´ should never go unquestioned. Each individual can state that something is moral, but at the same time should always be able to question, judge, listen and examine other opinions. There are found both supportive and objecting arguments for each theory, pointing out that none of them would always hold true.
Cultural Relativism argues that the moral traditions of each society are equally acceptable and correct. This opens a way to open-mindness and acceptance, but at the same time eliminates the possibility that in two opposing arguments one of them can actually be wrong; if everything is accepted as a `cultural law´ no progress will be made towards improvement of societies. Ethical Subjectivism is based on the individual´s judgment: right is whatever an individual thinks is right. This does not allows for `moral truths´ though. Often it is also taken as granted that Religion is the road of morality; though it does not offer answers to many modern problems and it is used as a handy tool for supporting personal beliefs and interests. According to Psychological Egoism, which denies the concept of altruism, every act is motivated by self-interest: we always do whatever guarantees the maximum benefit (be it material or moral) for us. Ethical Egoism on the other hand suggests that a person ought to act to his real self- interest only. According to the last one, the altruism and pity are diminishing people´s personality and should be strictly avoided, but it does not clarify what should be done if one´s self-interest is simultaneously other´s harm. Opposing to the Ethics of Egoism is the Utilitarian approach, according to which one should act so to bring happiness to the maximum number of people. This is not taking into account conflicting interests though, and ignores people´s rights. The idea of Social Contract avoids the trouble of defining the `moral´, instead supports that right is whatever the rules say to be right; we know of many fortunate social reforms though that eliminated the unjust rules. Finally, the Ethics of Virtue address the concept of a `good person/personality´ rather than the `right act´.
Together with the dilemma of which theory is right and what a person should do, there is the unresolved question of `absolute moral rules´. According to Kant there ought to be ever-holding rules, such as `never lie´ and `crime should be punished´.
The conclusion is that, although there is no universal truth about morality, under given circumstances the combination of the above theories, as well as the right amount of virtues, impartiality, care and reason comprise what is called `moral judgment and behavior´.



The Elements of Moral Philosophy by Rachels and Rachels is a book presenting the basic notions of the major theories regarding morality, as they have appeared in history and evolved until nowadays. It is composed of 14 self-contained chapters, each focusing on a different theory, providing original examples, standard arguments in favor and against, as well as the author's personal opinion on the validity and accuracy of each theory.

The first chapter tries to establish a basis, called "minimum conception of morality" that should, according to the author, be included in every theory: Morality should at the very least be the effort to guide one's conduct by reason while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual who will be affected by such conduct.

Chapter 2 presents the theory of Cultural Relativism whose central idea is that there is no universal truth in ethics, just the customs of different societies. This theory is identified as a major source of scepticism against ethics. However the idea that different cultures have different moral codes does not imply that there is no objective "truth" in ethics. It stresses however the importance of being aware of one's own cultural upbringing when examining moral codes of different cultures.

On a similar basis, Ethical Subjectivism is a simple theory claiming that when morality is concerned there are no "facts" and nobody is "right"; people just feel differently. The third chapter provides simple arguments against this theory and focuses on its evolution, Emotivism. The main argument against is that even though people may "feel differently", moral truths should be still relevant, as truths of reason, regardless of one's feelings.

Chapter 4 focuses on the connection of morality and religion, bringing forth two theories. The first is the Divine Command theory, claiming that a set of moral rules chosen by some divine entity should be followed. This, however, implies either that the rules are right because the deity chooses them to be so, rendering them arbitrary, or that the deity suggests these rules because they are right on their own, rendering the deity irrelevant to the judgement of correctness. The theory of Natural Law is also presented, in which everything has a certain natural "purpose" or "inclination" and this is why the deity created it and expects humans to use it.

Next comes the theory of Psychological Egoism, which states that morality is impossible as impartiality requires us to be unselfish, whereas each one of our actions can be traced to stem from our self-interest. Even while doing seemingly unselfish actions, people gain happiness and act, therefore, towards their own interests. However this produces an irrefutable theory: every action can be described as somehow promoting one's own agenda.

Ethical Egoism on a similar basis, claims that actually our only duty is to do what is best for ourselves. Arguments supporting it portray how altruism is self-defeating as it reduces others to recipients of charity, offending and possibly doing more harm than good to them because we know only our own needs and not theirs, how altruism is dangerous for the society as it regards the life of the individual as something one must be willing to sacrifice and finally how all "commonsense" morality rules reflect back into preserving one own's interests.

A different approach is tried by Utilitarianism, which states that the goal of every action should be the maximization of the total happiness. Two original examples lead the discussion on this theory: euthanasia, where letting suffering patients voluntarily end their lives increases the happiness of them as well as any caring family and on a similar note, treatment of animals should be similar to that of humans, as they are apparently capable of happiness and suffering. Utilitarianism is examined more thoroughly in the next chapter as well, where questions are raised on whether happiness is the only thing that matters or whether the overall result is the only thing that matters.

Kant's moral theory, revolving around the Categorical Imperative that one should "act according to that maxim by which they can at the same time will that it should become a universal law", is the subject of chapter 9. This theory implies absolute moral rules however and these are a cause of debate: what happens for example when faced with the choice to break one of two "absolute" moral laws? The discussion continues on the next chapter where respect for persons and retributive action are interpreted under both utilitarian and Kant's perspective.

Chapter 10 presents the theory that moral behaviour stems from a social contract, summarized in the statement that "morality consists in a set of rules that rational people will agree to accept on the condition that others follow those rules as well". Two main arguments against that theory is that the moral rules are not really formed in that way and also the social contract does not regulate ethical behaviour towards individuals who are unable to follow it (e.g. animals or mentally impaired people).

Feminism and the Ethics of Care are presented in chapter 11 as a female approach to morality, which explains behaviour towards family and friends better than other theories. The author connects this theory with the generalized Virtue Theory, in which several of the virtues that should be followed can encompass the notion of "caring". Virtue Theory explains which are the virtues, why they are important and whether they should be the same for everyone. The author also makes an argument towards the belief that Virtue Theory seems incomplete.

Rachels own moral doctrine is presented in the final chapter, where treating people as they deserve is presented as a step towards what he calls Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism.

David Klaftenegger,


The book tries to provide an introduction to and overview over Moral Philosophy. It consists of 14 chapters, in which it discusses different approaches to morality.
The very first chapter establishes a "minimum conception" of morality, while the chapters two to 13 discuss one of the following topics each:
cultural relativism, subjectivism, religion, psychological egoism, ethical egoism, utilitarianism, absolute rules, respect for persons, social contract, ethics of care and ethics of virtue. Finally, chapter 14 contains a description of the author's requirements for a satisfactory moral theory.

The author introduces each of the topics, presenting the reasoning behind and some arguments against it. Here, the author's own opinions and values are used to reject or endorse certain ideas.
In chapter two, the cultural relativism is rejected outright on the basis that it defines people's beliefs to be morally right without evaluating the moral value of these beliefs. The only value in cultural relativism accepted by the author is the reminder that many of out attitudes are in fact product of our cultural upbringing and not necessarily dictated by morality.

Chapter 3 deals with subjectivism both in a simple form and as emotivism.
While the former is rejected for removing all possibilities for disagreement by only allowing statements about one's own views, the latter is rejected because it allows what the author considers unrelated to be taken as reasons for judging moral problems as long as it can influence the listener's opinion.

Religion as a source of morality is rejected in chapter 4. It is argued that on the one hand, if something is good because a deity commanded it would make the deity's wishes arbitrary, as it would also be good if it commanded the opposite. On the other hand, if the deity commanded it because it was good this would not answer the question why it is good in the first place.
The theory of Natural Law, that everything has a purpose and using it for this purpose is morally right is also rejected, as it takes what _is_ to mean what _ought to be_, as well as it not fitting the scientific approach of modern science.
The author goes as far as quoting Thomas Aquinas to support his claim that religion and morality are separate issues.

Chapter 5 rejects psychological egoism as it simply defines everything to be selfish just because some sort of benefit or satisfaction is drawn from it. According to the author this makes morality a non-issue, as everything is just interpreted in such a way that it does not conflict with the premise of egoistic behaviour.

Ethical egoism as described in chapter 6, citing Ayn Rand, is stating that behaving egoistically is in the end the best for the society, as it is the only way to take each individual's life to be equally important.
The approach is rejected mainly on the point that it is an extreme form of advocating superiority of one set of people (oneself) over another (the others), which the author considers to be wrong as he rejects the notion of oneself being special among mankind.

Chapter 7 introduces utilitarianism and discussed thoroughly in chapter 8. It is the first concept in the book not to be rejected entirely. To defend the concept, the author gives both an extension to the original concept allowing more general rules to be derived, and a more radical argument that rejects the notion that utilitarianism conflicting with previous morality schemes is a point against it.

In chapter 9 the author discusses the existence of absolute rules. He rejects it on the basis that this makes it impossible to solve dilemmas in which all available options violate and absolute rule, which would require additional mechanics to prevent such situations, in which the author does not believe.

Kant's approach to human dignity and how to respect persons is discussed in chapter 10. The concept is not to use people as a mean but only as an end, which is shown to significantly alter how a system of punishment for crimes is to be built: Taking a person serious requires to punish proportionally to show respect for the deed, while utilitarianism allows punishment only to either protect society or correct the wrongdoer.

The social contract theory of morals is described in chapter 11. It postulates a contract of which all members of society are parties. Only by accepting the rules of the society one becomes entitled to partake in its benefits; by violating the rules one becomes subject to retribution. The author considers the concept flawed because it cannot deal adequately with people who are mentally unable to be a party of such a contract.

Chapter 12 introduces a different approach, described as mainly a domain of feminist philosophers: The ethics of care deal not with the duties one has from morality but rather with how to handle personal relations. The author considers this to be more relevant in the context of family and friends, but less fitting for the morality of society as a whole.

The author describes in chapter 13 the option to fall back to the ethics of virtues as used by philosophers in ancient times. By providing a list of traits a good person has it avoids the problem of giving advice on how to act in specific situations, but it does not solve the problem of conflicting virtues.

Finally, chapter 14 contains a description of the author's requirements for a satisfactory moral theory, resulting in the proposition of a multiple-strategies utilitarianism.

Johan Östlund,


The text book provides an introduction to moral philosophy, starting out with a number of cases apparently chosen to appeal to the feelings of the reader. Each case is accompanied by a discussion of arguments for and against the actions taken. Finally it is concluded that the minimum conception of morality must be that conduction should be guided by reason and that one should take into account equally each affected party.

Cultural relativism--that no act is wrong as long as it adheres to whatever standards are stipulated by the society in which an agent appears--is handled next. Several accounts of this is given. The whole idea is then torn apart by a simple analysis of the argument. Focus is then lifted, which allows finding commonalities between seemingly incompatible cultural practices.

Ethical subjectivism--that there is no right and wrong, just what people feel--is discussed in the following chapter. Several stages of ethical subjectivism are presented, starting with "simple subjectivism", which basically says that if I approve of something it is morally good. The problem with this line of reasoning is that I might approve of bad things. The other problem is that is two agents disagree, it means that what's morally good can't really be decided, one thinks one way and the other another, and neither is right or wrong. Emotivism--an improved version of the theory--notes that language is used in several ways, and that one has to distinguish between someone reporting an attitude and expressing an attitude. The disagreement issue is solved in a similar fashion, noting that what is disagreed upon is not morality but facts or desires.

The perceived connection between morality and religion is then discussed. The theory of natural law--that everything in nature ex

Uppdaterad  2016-11-14 10:54:29 av Iordanis Kavathatzopoulos.