PHIL 3100 -- Ethical Theory
Fall 2015
Prof. Chris Heathwood
University of Colorado Boulder


Study Guide for Final Exam


The final exam will come in two parts and will take place over two class periods.  Part 1 will consist of very-short-answer questions (multiple-choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank questions, and the like).  Part 2 will consist of short-answer questions (questions that can usually be answered in a sentence to a paragraph).  Those will be similar to the sorts of questions below.  Both parts are in-class, closed-note, and closed-reading exams.  For Part 2, you will need to bring a bluebook.

Part 1 will take place in class during the last week of classes.  Part 2 will take place during our allotted Final Exam period.  See syllabus for specifics.

For both parts of the final exam, you are responsible for all the topics and all of the readings that we have done since the midterm.  See syllabus for specifics.

Being responsible for the readings includes being responsible for the Reading Questions.  Some reading questions might even appear on the exam.  Though they wouldn't be the more obscure ones.

You are also responsible for everything we did in lecture, including what we talked about and what was on the slides and the chalkboard.  The slides are available on the course schedule on the syllabus.

To prepare for the exam, re-read any readings that you found challenging, study your reading notes, including your answers to reading questions, study your class notes, study the slides from lecture (which you'll find on the syllabus), and, most importantly, write out your answers to the questions below, as if it were the exam.  Do this before the review sessions, so that you will know what questions you need to ask.

Let me emphasize the importance of actually writing out answers to these questions.  We often think we understand something -- until we try to put it in writing.  Only then do we realize we don't really understand it.  If you don't write out your answers, you won't know what you don't know.

Another excellent way to prepare for the final exam is to supplement your individual work on the material with group study.  Try to arrange a study group with one or more of your classmates.  If I can be of assistance in helping you form a study group -- e.g., I could send out an email to the class about it -- please let me know.


Study Questions


Introduction to the Normative Ethics of Behavior

  1. What is the fundamental project of the normative ethics of behavior?
  2. What is the difference between a mere moral principle and a full-blown moral theory?
  3. Carefully state a sample theory in the normative ethics of behavior that is based on a popular ethical precept.  It could be based on the golden rule, the platinum rule, the Ten Commandments, something else ... .
  4. Present a clear and convincing counterexample to this theory.


  1. State act utilitarianism (AU).  Be sure to define all the technical terms.
  2. State a defective formulation of act utilitarianism and explain why it is defective.
  3. (a) Explain the organ harvest objection to AU.  Doing so will require telling the story behind the objection, and presenting the relevant line-by-line argument.  Also give the rationale for P1 of the argument.
    (b) What is wrong with giving the following rationale for P2 of this argument?: "P2 is true because if the doctor were to kill her patient in order to save the five others, people would no longer trust their doctors.  They would be afraid to go to hospitals and so would be dying in great numbers of easily preventable diseases.  This would be disastrous."
  4. (a) What is the Trolley Problem?  Be sure to explain the cases involved in the problem.
    (b) Describe a possible solution to the Trolley Problem that you think is unsuccessful, and then explain why it fails.
  5. How can the Trolley Problem be used by a Utilitarian to deflect the Organ Harvest Objection?

Axiology / Welfare

  1. (a) Explain the difference between intrinsic value (for a person) and instrumental value (for a person).  Give intuitive examples of each (i.e., an example of something that intuitively is either intrinsically good for a person or intrinsically bad for a person, and an example of something that intuitively is merely either instrumentally good or bad for a person).
    (b) Explain the difference between welfare and value simpliciter.  Give an intuitive example of something that might be intrinsically good or bad simpliciter without being intrinsically good or bad for anyone.
  2. Suppose you wanted to determine whether being alive is intrinsically good for people.  How would you go about doing this?  Illustrate how this works.  What answer do you get?
  3. (a) State Hedonism about welfare (all three parts).
    (b) Must Hedonists believe that a life devoted to sensual pleasures (e.g., a life of "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll") is the sort of life that it would be best for everyone to live?  Explain.
  4. (a) Describe Nozick's experience machine.
    (b) Does Hedonism about welfare imply that everyone would choose to enter the machine?  Explain.
    (c) State our version of the experience machine objection to Hedonism about welfare, and give the rationales for each premise.
  5. (a) State a standard version of the Desire Satisfactionism.
    (b) Explain how this theory avoids problems with the experience machine.  (In other words, explain why, if you replaced 'Hedonism' in your experience machine argument above with 'Desire-Fulfillment Theory', the argument would be less plausible.  Note that this question is about the standard desire theory, not one that incorporates an "awareness" condition.)
    (c) Present some version of the "stranger on the train" objection (or "exiled uncle" objection) to the standard desire theory.
    (d) In your view, what should a desire satisfactionist say or do in response to this objection?
  6. (a) What in general is the Objective List Theory of well-being and what is Rice's particular version of it?  Be sure to say what is meant by describing this theory of well-being as an "objective" theory.
    (b) Explain how an Objective List Theory avoids problems with the experience machine.
    (c) Present one main reason that Rice prefers an Objective List Theory over competing theories.
    (d) Present the reason that your humble instructor gives for rejecting an objective theory of well-being in favor of a subjective one.

Rossian Pluralism

  1. Define 'prima facie duty'.  Illustrate the idea by means of an example.
  2. Present Ross's list of seven basic prima facie duties.  For each duty, say in a sentence what the duty is.
  3. (a) State Rossian Pluralism (RP).  Explain the basic idea of the theory in your own words. 
    (b) Illustrate the theory with the promise/accident example.
  4. Consider this case: "Suppose that the fulfilment of a promise to A would produce 1,000 units of good for him, but that by doing some other act I could produce 1,001 units of good for B, to whom I have made no promise, the other consequences of the two acts being of equal value" (Ross, p. 34). 
    (a) What does Rossian Pluralism imply that the agent in this case should do -- keep the promise to A or break it so as to produce more total benefit? 
    (b) Why?  Thoroughly explain everything that is at issue in the agent's decision here.
  5. In class we laid out an argument against Ross' theory that contained this premise: If we all successfully follow Rossian Pluralism, we'll be less well-off as a whole than if we all successfully follow Utilitarianism.  Give a thorough and detailed rationale for this premise.