PHIL 3100 -- Ethical Theory
Fall 2016
Prof. Chris Heathwood
TA: Jules Guidry

University of Colorado Boulder

Reading Questions

Here are questions to go along with our readings.  Have them with you as you are doing each reading.  Write down what you take the answers to be.  When there is a pop quiz, the questions on the quiz will be taken verbatim from the questions below.  Remember that reading quizzes are open-note, but not open-reading. 

There is a beneficial side-effect of doing this.  Reading more actively -- e.g., taking notes on a reading, answering questions about the reading, looking out for particular ideas and issues in a reading -- rather than reading passively helps us better understand and better remember what we've read, and helps us connect the ideas in the reading to other things we know.

Huemer, "Introduction," from his Ethical Intuitionism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).  This is the first required reading from the Huemer book.  I am providing it to you in case you encounter delays in obtaining your copy of the book.

  1. According to Huemer, what are the four main kinds of metaethical question?  (Just providing the labels for the categories is fine.)
  2. Give your own example of a property that is objective according to Huemer's definition.
  3. Give your own example of a property that is subjective according to Huemer's definition.
  4. TRUE of FALSE: Assuming that Bob is happy, Huemer would say that the fact that Bob is happy is subjective.
  5. Suppose that a high jumper, Sarah, is like this: if she believes that she'll clear the bar, then she always does; if she thinks she won't, she won't.  Does whether Sarah will clear the high-jump bar depend constitutively or merely causally on whether she thinks she will clear the bar?
  6. So, is the issue of whether she will clear the bar objective or subjective?
  7. Let's say that to be "popular" is to be such that lots of people like you and comparatively few dislike you.  Polls show that Pope Francis is popular in the U.S.  Does the fact that Pope Francis is popular in U.S. depend constitutively or merely causally on lots of Americans liking him and comparatively few disliking him?
  8. So, is the issue of whether Pope Francis is popular in U.S. objective or subjective?
  9. What does a subjectivist theory of color say?
  10. TRUE or FALSE: According to Huemer, the view that right and wrong are determined by God's commands is a subjectivist view about right and wrong.
  11. TRUE or FALSE: According to non-cognitivism, the statement "Happiness is good" is describing happiness as being a certain way.
  12. Which metaethical theory would say that the statement "Abortion is wrong" is like the statement "Zeus lives on Mount Olympus"?
  13. According to Huemer, ethical intuitionism gets its name from
    (a) its semantic component
    (b) its epistemological component
    (c) its metaphysical component
    (d) its moral psychological component.
  14. Why does Huemer think that the most fundamental division in metaethics is between the intuitionists and everyone else?
  15. Could any form of anti-realism accept Huemer's view that evaluative predicates like 'good' function to attribute objective features to things?  If so, which one?
  16. What is metaphysical anti-realism?  Is Huemer going to try to refute that view before he tries to refute moral anti-realism?

Huemer, "Non-Cognitivism," §§2.1-2.2.

  1. What is cognitivism in ethics?
  2. What is non-cognitivism in ethics?
  3. TRUE or FALSE: According to emotivism, if a person says, "Lighting cats on fire is wrong," she is asserting that she herself a negative emotion or attitude towards lighting cats on fire.
  4. Does Huemer endorse cognitivism or non-cognitivism?
  5. What test does Huemer think we can perform to help us to decide whether cognitivism or non-cognitivism is true?
  6. According to Huemer, some non-cognitivists defend non-cognitivism on the grounds that it is able to explain a certain way in which people motivated to act.  What way is that?

Van Cleve, "Necessity, Analyticity, and the A Priori" from his Problems from Kant (Oxford University Press, 1999).

  1. As Kant uses the term, "empirical" knowledge has its source in what? 
  2. How does Kant define "a priori knowledge"?
  3. TRUE or FALSE: When Kant speaks, in the context of defining a priori knowledge, of a person knowing something independently of experience, Kant is saying that the person would have known this even if the person had never had any experiences.
  4. Give an example of an a priori claim.
  5. Give an example of an empirical claim.
  6. What is it for a truth to be contingent?  Give an example of a contingent truth.
  7. What is it for a truth to be necessary?  Give an example of a necessary truth.
  8. According to Kant, are any contingent truths knowable a priori?  If so, give an example.
  9. Van Cleve claims that Kant's "contradiction characterization" of analyticity is one that is commonly accepted in contemporary philosophy.  State this account of analyticity in your own words, as if you were explaining it to a friend.
  10. Why, according to Van Cleve, is a priori knowledge of analytic truths not so mysterious?
  11. What do some philosophers think would require believing in some mysterious cognitive faculty?
  12. What is Van Cleve's example of a synthetic a priori truth that makes a claim about colors?

Ayer, "Critique of Ethics and Theology" from his Language, Truth, and Logic (1936)

  1. Ayer says that the existence of ethical knowledge would present a problem for his empiricism.  What do you think his empiricism is?
  2. Why would the existence of ethical knowledge present a problem for this view (his empiricism)?
  3. Ayer inquires into whether moral statements can be translated into what?
  4. Why does Ayer reject the subjectivist view that to call an action right or a thing good is to say that it is generally approved of?
  5. Why does Ayer reject the utilitarian view that to call an action right is to say that of all the actions possible in the circumstances that action would bring about the greatest happiness?
  6. In class last week, we discussed two view on moral semantics; we called them "non-reductionism" and "reductive naturalism."  Which of these does Ayer hold?
  7. TRUE or FALSE: Ayer holds that appeals to intuition are not legitimate sources of knowledge of moral claims.
  8. TRUE or FALSE: Ayer holds that when a person says that some action is wrong, he is making a statement about his own feelings about the action.
  9. After claiming that moral statements aren't used to make assertions about things, Ayer states three things that he thinks they are used to do.  What are they?
  10. Ayer thinks that moral claims are
    (a) sometimes true, sometimes false
    (b) always false
    (c) never either true or false.
  11. According to Ayer, what is the difference between his theory of the meaning of moral terms and the subjectivist theory?
  12. The core of Ayer's response to the argument by Moore is the claim that what?
  13. To which of the following does Ayer subscribe?
    (a) subjectivism
    (b) utilitarianism
    (c) intuitionism
    (d) none of the above.

Huemer, "Non-Cognitivism," §§2.3, 2.8 (2.4-2.7 optional), from Ethical Intuitionism (2005).

  1. Huemer identifies a number of features of uncontroversially proposition-expressing sentences.  Why is he doing this?
  2. State three of these features.  (One sentence for each is enough.)
  3. According to Huemer, what is probably the best-known objection to non-cognitivism?  (Just giving the name is fine.)
  4. In order to try to use introspection to decide between cognitivism and non-cognitivism, what question does Huemer think we should ask?
  5. TRUE or FALSE: Huemer concedes that cognitivists have a hard time explaining why there is a connection between moral judgment and emotion.
  6. According to Huemer, cognitivism has this advantage over emotivism: cognitivists can say that moral judgments are sometimes emotionally laden and sometimes not, but emotivists have to say that moral judgments are what?

Hume, excerpts from A Treatise on Human Nature (1740) and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751).

  1. Hume writes: "Take any action allow'd to be vicious: Willful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. ... You can never find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, toward this action."  Which metaethical theory does Hume appear to be endorsing in these remarks?  Be sure to identify the specific variety of this theory.
  2. Hume writes: "Examine the crime of ingratitude, for instance, which has place wherever we observe good-will expressed and known, together with good-offices performed, on the one side, and a return of ill-will or indifference with ill-offices or neglect on the other: anatomize all these circumstances and examine, by your reason alone, in what consists the demerit or blame. You never will come to any issue or conclusion."  Which of the following views is Hume attacking here?
    (a) moral subjectivism
    (b) moral realism
    (c) non-cognitivism
    (d) nihilism.
  3. What, according to Hume, is morality determined by?
  4. Explain why, on Hume's view, virtue is a subjective, or attitude-dependent, property.

Moore, "The Nature of Moral Philosophy" (1922), 329-336.

pp. 329-332

  1. On p. 329, Moore is laying out the issue of whether the notions of obligation and value are what?
  2. Why does Moore think that it is of great interest whether subjectivism in metaethics is true?
  3. What is Moore inclined to think about this question?
  4. What view does Prof. Westermarck hold?

Huemer, "Subjectivism," §§3.1-3.3, from Ethical Intuitionism (2005).

  1. How many versions of subjectivism does Huemer state at the beginning of the chapter?
  2. TRUE or FALSE: On Subjectivism, there are, strictly speaking, no moral facts.
  3. According to Huemer, the problem with the view that to be good is to be believed to be good is
    (a) that it is circular
    (b) that it leads to an infinite regress
    (c) all of the above
    (d) none of the above.
  4. On one subjectivist theory, saying, "that act is wrong," means the same as saying, "I disapprove of that act."  According to Huemer, this theory makes it impossible to do what?
  5. TRUE or FALSE: Huemer claims that cultural relativism makes it impossible to disagree with anyone about morality.
  6. Huemer's fourth objection to the cultural relativist comes in the form of a dilemma.  What are the two horns, or options, of this dilemma?

Moore, "The Nature of Moral Philosophy" (1922), 329-336.

pp. 333-336

  1. On p. 333, Moore presents an argument against subjectivist theories like Hume's and Westermarck's.  When a philosopher gives an argument against some theory (on whatever topic), very often the argument takes the form of stating what the philosopher believes to be an implausible implication of the theory.  It is helpful if, as a reader, you try to very clearly identify just what that allegedly implausible implication is supposed to be.  Try to state it in a single sentence if you can.  Then the argument can be represented as follows:

    P1. If the theory in question is true, then ____<allegedly implausible implication of the theory>_____ . 
    P2. But it's not the case that ____<allegedly implausible implication of the theory>_____ .
    C. Therefore, the theory in question is not true.

    For this question, state the argument that Moore gives against Westermarck's theory in the above format.  The key is of course to identify what Moore takes the allegedly implausible implication of Westermarck's theory to be.
  2. What, according to Moore, is required for two people to disagree about whether some act is wrong?
  3. Moore later considers a society-based version of subjectivism.  Does Moore think that the sort of argument he gave against Westermarck's theory also applies to the society-based theory?
  4. Moore very briefly considers a subjectivist theory having to do with the "feelings of all mankind."  Does Moore think that his argument also applies to this theory?

Plato, excerpt from Euthyphro (380 BC)

  1. Euthyphro claims to be an expert about __________.
  2. Who indicted Socrates for impiety?
  3. Socrates didn't want Euthyphro to give him examples of pious actions, but to explain to him what?
  4. For what purpose does Socrates want this explained to him?
  5. What question does Socrates put to Euthyphro in response to Euthyphro's view that what all the gods love is pious, and what they all hate is impious?
  6. TRUE or FALSE: In the end, Euthyphro provides an account of piety with which Socrates is satisfied.

Huemer, "Subjectivism," §§3.4-3.6, from Ethical Intuitionism (2005).

  1. What metaethical view that is often seen as the antithesis of the Divine Command Theory does Huemer say is actually just a variation on the same basic idea?
  2. Huemer considers six potential problems for the Divine Command Theory.  Which does he say is the most important?
    (a) the problem of God's existence
    (b) the problem of knowing God's wishes
    (c) the problem of horrible commands
    (d) the problem of disagreement
    (e) the problem of fallibility
    (f) the problem of arbitrariness.
  3. According to an Ideal Observer Theory, to answer moral questions, how are we to reason?
  4. Ideal observes are usually defined as knowing all the non-moral facts?  What would be the problem with saying that they also know all moral facts?
  5. According to Huemer, support for subjectivism in metaethics involves the fundamental mistake of confusing what for what?

Antony, "Good Minus God," New York Times (2011).

  1. Antony suspects that so many people dislike atheists because they think that rejecting God means rejecting what?
  2. As Antony sees it, why do nihilistic atheists deny that there are objective facts about what people morally ought or ought not to do?
  3. Who from the history of philosophy was a nihilistic atheist, according to Antony?
  4. Antony writes, "Things don't become morally valuable because God prefers them; God prefers them because they are morally valuable."  What should this remind us of?
  5. Does Antony think that even theists should agree with her about this?  Why?
  6. Antony identifies two things that the Divine Command Theory of ethics nicely explains.  What are they?
  7. According to Antony, Divine Command Theory can succeed only if it can explain what?
  8. What is the "Divine Independence Theory"?
  9. According to Antony, if the Divine Command Theory is true, then what kind of reason can we have and what kind of reason can we not have to obey God?
  10. Does Antony think that our choices become more significant or less significant if atheism is true?  Why?

Huemer, "Reductionism," §4.1, from Ethical Intuitionism (2005).

  1. How does Huemer define 'natural property'?
  2. According to Huemer, what is it to say that an evaluative property "reduces" to a natural property?
  3. What, according to Huemer, is supposed to be a key advantage of reductionism in metaethics?
  4. How does Huemer suggest we might come to know moral facts if they are reducible to natural facts?

Heathwood, "Reductionism in Ethics," in H. LaFollette (ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Ethics (Blackwell, 2013), print pages 4459–4466.

pp. 1-5

  1. According to Heathwood, reductionism in ethics is roughly the view that what?
  2. How many advantages does Heathwood list for reductionism?  Are any of these the advantage asked about in #3 above under the last Huemer reading?
  3. What is nonreductionism in ethics?
  4. According to Heathwood, just about all forms of reductionism defended today are also forms of what?  State the view in addition to naming it.
  5. Heathwood gives two different definitions of 'natural property' that he thinks are promising.  What are they?
  6. Are either of these definitions of 'natural property' the one that Huemer employs?  If so, which one?
  7. As Heathwood uses these terms, "Not all forms of reductionism are forms of naturalism."  Is this true on the way Huemer uses these terms?
  8. According to Heathwood, the most important distinction in reductionism is between what and what?
  9. TRUE or FALSE: According to Heathwood, reductionists can be either realists or anti-realists.
  10. According to Heathwood, to what controversial thesis in epistemology are nonnaturalists likely committed?
  11. What is the doctrine of moral supervenience?
  12. According to Heathwood, what epistemic principle might explain why it is reasonable to believe in electrons but not in rain gods?

Huemer, "Reductionism," §4.2, from Ethical Intuitionism (2005).

  1. What is analytic reductionism?
  2. According to Huemer, what argument refutes analytic reductionism?
  3. What is Huemer's definition of 'open question'?
  4. In support of the idea that a person could coherently wonder whether increasing enjoyment is good, Huemer claims that a certain sort of value system is at least coherent, or logically consistent.  What is this value system called?  And what does it hold?
  5. Huemer claims that critics of Moore's Open Question Argument object to the argument in two different ways.  According to the first objection that Huemer discusses, critics say that Moore's argument does what?
  6. Huemer then goes on to the second reply to Moore.  According to Huemer, those who make this reply to Moore's argument assume that Moore is committed to what claim about the correct analysis of our concepts?
  7. According to Huemer, Moore can get by with a weaker assumption.  What is that assumption?

Moore, from Principia Ethica (1903), §§5-7, 9-10, and esp. 13.

  1. What is the epigraph to Moore's Principia Ethica?
  2. What, according to Moore, is the most fundamental question in all of ethics?
  3. TRUE or FALSE: Moore claims that those who don't know the answer to this question will be unable to make true ethical judgments.
  4. If Moore were asked, "How is 'good' to be defined?," what would his answer be?
  5. Moore holds that "propositions about the good are all of them synthetic and never analytic."  Who else that we have read this semester (other than Huemer) explicitly agrees that "propositions about the good are ... never analytic."?  What metaethical view does this person hold?
  6. Moore says that simple notions (like 'good' or 'yellow') cannot be defined.  He suggests two ways in which such notions can be known or understood.  What are they?
  7. TRUE or FALSE: When Moore claims that 'good' is indefinable, he means this to imply that there are no true statements of the form "________ is good" (e.g., "happiness is good," "freedom is good").
  8. According to Moore, we cannot define anything except by a what?
  9. TRUE or FALSE: Moore emphasizes that 'good' isn't the only simple and indefinable quality.
  10. Moore believes that some philosophers have made the mistake of thinking that when they discover what other things are true of things that are good, they were defining 'good' in terms of those things.  What name does Moore give to this mistake?
  11. In §13, Moore considers a definition of 'good' in terms of 'desire'.  What exactly is this definition?
  12. On that definition, is goodness an objective or subjective property?
  13. Moore says that it might be true that everything we desire to desire is good and everything that is good is something we desire to desire -- in other words, that something is good if and only if we desire to desire it.  But he thinks that it at least makes sense to doubt that this is the case.  What does he think this shows?
  14. Moore suggests that those who think that 'good' just means 'pleasant' are committed to holding that someone who asks, "Is pleasure good?" is wondering what?
  15. Moore claims that when we entertain the question of whether something is good, our state of mind is different from what it would be if we were entertaining any of what questions?

Ayer, "Critique of Ethics and Theology" from his Language, Truth, and Logic (1936)

pp. 104-105 (to the end of the paragraph ending in 'empirically calculable').

  1. Ayer is interested in the possibility of reducing what to what?
  2. According to Ayer, the utilitarian defines the rightness of action and the goodness of outcomes in terms of what?
  3. And the subjectivist defines these in terms of what?
  4. Why does Ayer reject the subjectivist view that to call an action right or a thing good is to say that it is generally approved of?
  5. Why does Ayer reject the utilitarian view that to call an action right is to say that of all the actions possible in the circumstances that action would bring about the greatest happiness?
  6. Ayer ultimately concludes that normative statements are not equivalent to what kind of statements?

Heathwood, "Reductionism in Ethics" (2013), the rest.

  1. According to Heathwood, no attack on reductionism in ethics has drawn more attention than what argument?
  2. What is Heathwood's definition of 'open question'?
  3. According to the one objection to Moore's argument that Heathwood mentions, Moore's argument does what?  (A short phrase is all you need here; you don't need to explain the objection.)
  4. As noted above, Huemer discusses two objections to Moore's argument.  Which one of these -- the first or the second -- is closest to the one objection to Moore's argument that Heathwood mentions.

Ross, "What Makes Right Acts Right?" The Right and the Good (1930), pp. 19-20 (¶7-8), pp. 28-34 (25-27, 29-30, 32-33), pp. 40-41 44).  '¶¶7-8' means paragraphs 7-8; I've numbered the paragraphs in this reading.

  1. FILL IN THE BLANKS: Ross introduces the technical term '_____ _____ duty'.
  2. Who, according to Ross, denies that it is sometimes right to tell a lie or break a promise?
  3. Ross holds that the proposition that it is prima facie right to keep a promise is self-evident.  What does he mean by this?
  4. Ross suggests that if we trust our reason in matters of what, then we have no reason not to trust it in matters of the basic moral order of the universe.
  5. According to Ross, while we can be relatively certain of the general principles of moral obligation, our judgments of what are much less certain?
  6. Ross, we can presume, would agree that it is wrong of the teenagers to set the cat on fire.  Would he say that this is self-evident?
  7. Ross claims that we are more likely to do the right thing if we do what?
  8. TRUE or FALSE: Ross admits that there are at least some differences between moral and mathematical properties.
  9. According to Ross, by what means do we most directly access facts and right and wrong, and good and bad?
  10. What, according to Ross, are the "data of ethics"?

Huemer, "Moral Knowledge," §§5.1-5.4, from Ethical Intuitionism (2005).

  1. Huemer begins this chapter by claiming that, thus far, he has established three things about moral properties.  What are they?
  2. Huemer claims that, in addition to being sensory, mnemonic, or introspective, appearance can be what?
  3. Give an example of this kind of appearance.
  4. What, according to Huemer, is an intuition?
  5. Huemer gives a list of five intuitions in ethics -- i.e., ethical claims that seem true prior to considering arguments for or against them.  Come up with one more of your own.
  6. Huemer gives a list of three ethical claims that, he says, are not intuitively true (which is not to say that they are intuitively untrue).  Come up with one more of your own.
  7. From the claim that no moral belief can be derived from wholly non-moral premises, what does Huemer conclude?
  8. TRUE or FALSE: Huemer argues that moral intuition is infallible.
  9. TRUE or FALSE: Intuitionists in metaethics are committed to the view that all true moral claims are self-evident, at least to those who consider them.
  10. Who calls ethical intuition "queer" and "utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else."
  11. TRUE or FALSE: In response, Huemer concedes that ethical intuition is a wholly different way of knowing things.
  12. How does Huemer state empiricism?
  13. TRUE or FALSE: Huemer rejects empiricism.
  14. What is the first putative counterexample that Huemer gives to empiricism?
  15. According to Huemer, what does Mackie take for granted as a premise in his attack on intuitionism?

Mackie, "The Subjectivity of Values," from Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (New York: Penguin Books, 1977).  §§5, 6, 10, and 11 are optional; the rest is required.

  1. What, according to Mackie, is the thesis of his chapter?
  2. What things does Mackie include under the loose category of "moral values"?
  3. TRUE or FALSE: The form of "subjectivism" that Mackie means to be discussing is not the view that 'This action is right' means 'I approve of this action'.
  4. TRUE or FALSE: By 'subjectivism' Mackie just means what in our class we as defined as 'moral anti-realism'.
  5. Mackie is at pains to distinguish linguistic second-order (or metaethical) questions from what other kind of second-order question?
  6. The philosopher R.M. Hare asks us to "Think of one world into whose fabric values are objectively built; and think of another in which those values have been annihilated. And remember that in both worlds the people in them go on being concerned about the same things - there is no difference in the 'subjective' concern which people have for things, only in their 'objective' value."  Then he asks, "What is the difference between the states of affairs in these two worlds?"  What is Hare's answer to this question? 
  7. What is Mackie's answer to this question?
  8. TRUE or FALSE: As Mackie uses the term, to say that there are objective values is to say that there are some things that are valued by everyone.
  9. TRUE or FALSE: Mackie holds that while objectivism about values has been popular among philosophers, it is not at all a feature of ordinary thought.
  10. What, according to Mackie, is a natural reaction to any non-cognitive analysis of ethical terms?
  11. Does Bertrand Russell subscribe to realism or anti-realism in metaethics?
  12. What would you say is the main thing Mackie is trying to establish in the section, "The claim to objectivity"?
  13. Which of the following views in metaethics would Mackie say he holds?
     (a) non-cognitivism
     (b) naturalism
     (c) error theory
     (d) Russell's view.
  14. Mackie says that the metaethical view that he holds has traditionally been defended by what two arguments?  (You can just name the arguments.)
  15. What is the main premise of the argument from relativity?
  16. Mackie mentions three general moral principles that might be thought to operate in all societies.  Name or state one of them.
  17. The "argument from queerness," Mackie suggests, is really two distinct arguments, one metaphysical and the other epistemological.  He states the core premise of the metaphysical argument in one sentence.  What is it?
  18. He also states the core premise of the epistemological argument in one sentence.  What is it?
  19. Would Ross concede that we know moral truths (when we know them) in a way that is utterly different from our ways of knowing everything else?
  20. Mackie says that "Another way of bringing out this queerness is to ask, about anything that is supposed to have some objective moral quality, how this is linked with its natural features."  We gave a name to this linking relation in class.  What was it?
  21. In summarizing his case for his brand of moral scepticism, Mackie enumerates the considerations in favor of the view.  How many does he enumerate?

Huemer, "Moral Knowledge," §§5.5, from Ethical Intuitionism (2005).

  1. Which does Huemer think is more obvious, that enjoyment is better than excruciating pain or that it is impossible for anything to be intrinsically motivating?
  2. According to Huemer, successfully defending nihilism requires producing premises more plausible that what?

Huemer, "Disagreement and Error," from Ethical Intuitionism (2005).

  1. According to Huemer, what is the main reason that most philosophers reject intuitionism?
  2. What are the three main kinds of moral disagreement that Huemer mentions?
  3. Why does Huemer think that moral disagreement is actually less prevalent than one might think?
    (a) because many moral disputes have non-moral roots
    (b) because there is tons of moral agreement that we don't take notice of
    (c) all of the above
    (d) none of the above.
  4. In considering the question of whether intuitionists can explain moral disagreement, Huemer formulates a line-by-line argument against intuitionism.  Give the rationale for premise 2 of this argument.  (When I ask you to give the rationale for some premise, I am asking you to give the reason it is supposed to be true.  You should be able to do this even if you don't think the premise is actually true.)
  5. The question of who shot JFK is pointed to by Huemer as an example of what?
  6. How many kinds of potential sources of error does Huemer catalog in his "menagerie of error"?
  7. Huemer discusses how the self-image one wants to construct can influence one's belief.  He gives an example.  Give another example of your own devising.
  8. Huemer mentions two common but in his view unreliable sources of information that can set our moral views astray.  What are these two sources?
  9. Does Huemer think that it is the job of a theory of perceptual knowledge to offer a way to resolve a dispute involving two witnesses at a trial who give different versions of the relevant events? 
  10. What analogous thing does he think this shows about a theory of moral knowledge?
  11. Huemer says that while there may be little one can do about the biases of others, one can work on whose biases?
  12. Huemer claims that reason and argument must play a major role in helping to resolve moral disagreements, including disputes over basic moral intuitions.  Huemer mentions five things we can do to subject basic moral principles to critical scrutiny.  Name three of these things.
  13. TRUE or FALSE: Huemer concedes that the phenomenon of moral disagreement implies that we should at least have a modest attitude towards controversial moral beliefs.
  14. TRUE or FALSE: Huemer concedes that subjectivism and non-cognitivism may have plausible explanations of the phenomenon of moral disagreement.
  15. TRUE or FALSE: Huemer concedes that nihilists may have plausible explanations of the phenomenon of moral disagreement.
  16. Huemer identifies three practices common in moral philosophy that, he claims, anti-realists can make little sense of.  What are they?

Mill, excerpts from "What Utilitarianism Is," ch. 2 of his Utilitarianism (1863).  For fun, check out this first edition of the book, published in London in 1863.

  1. Mill appears to state what is more or less a fully general moral principle, or a moral theory. What is it?
  2. What two names does he give it?
  3. According to Mill, what are the only two things that are desirable in themselves?
  4. According to Mill, what is true of all Epicurean "theories of life"?
  5. TRUE or FALSE: According to Mill, it can happen that two pleasures are equal in the amount of pleasure they contain, yet one is more desirable than the other.
  6. According to Mill, it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a what?
  7. TRUE or FALSE: According to Mill, utilitarianism holds that right and wrong are determined solely by appeal to the agent's own happiness.
  8. What common moral rule does Mill think contains the basic essence of utilitarianism?
  9. According to Mill, those who think that utilitarianism is "too high for humanity" claim that utilitarianism requires us always to be motivated by a desire to promote what?
  10. Mill thinks that to make this objection against utilitarianism is to confuse what with what?
  11. TRUE or FALSE: Mill holds that if you save a child from drowning in order to get a reward rather than in order to promote happiness, then your act is wrong.
  12. Mill suggests that utilitarianism harmonizes quite nicely with religion if it is assumed that God desires what?
  13. According to an objection to utilitarianism that Mill discusses, utilitarianism requires us to do what before we act?
  14. In response to this objection, Mill claims that it is a mistake to use utilitarianism to directly test what?
  15. According to Mill, when we are in a situation in which we have conflicting duties, to what do we appeal to decide between them?

Feldman, "What is Act Utilitarianism?" from his Introductory Ethics (Prentice-Hall, 1978).

  1. Feldman thinks that you are probably a utilitarian if you think that the moral status of an action is determined by what?
  2. What are the main differences between generic actions and concrete actions?
  3. Consider this claim: "an act is wrong if it makes someone feel bad." Is making someone feel bad a necessary or a sufficient condition for the act's being wrong?
  4. Consider this claim: "an act is wrong only if God forbids it." Is God forbidding it a necessary or a sufficient condition for the act's being wrong?
  5. Recall this interpretation of Mill's theory: "an act is right if and only if it causes pleasure and the absence of pain." Feldman thinks that this principle is not true because it implies that what?
  6. Recall this interpretation of Mill's theory: "an act is right if and only if it causes pleasure and does not cause pain." Feldman mentions two features that this principle lacks that he thinks any plausible utilitarian principle needs. Name one of these features.
  7. State the interpretation of Mill's theory that Feldman thinks is the best interpretation.  Also say what name he gives it.
  8. What is consequentialism?
  9. TRUE or FALSE: Feldman thinks that a good way to understand utilitarianism is as the view that we should bring about the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
  10. What does Feldman think is the absurd consequence of the view that an act is right if and only if it produces the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

Feldman, "Problems for Act Utilitarianism" (1978).  (You can skip the section on "Trivial Actions" (pp. 50-51) if you want.)

  1. What technical term does Feldman use to describe the actions of the heroic mailman?
  2. Define this term.
  3. According to Feldman, is this sort of action a problem for utilitarianism?
  4. In Feldman's Promise-to-the-Dead-Man example, would anyone be harmed if the grandson were to break the promise?
  5. Philosophers often use fanciful examples like desert-island cases.  Why, according to Feldman, do philosophers do this?
  6. State what you take to be the utilitarian account of promissory obligation (that is, the explanation that a utilitarian would give for why we ought to keep our promises (when we ought to do so)).
  7. Feldman considers an alternative account of promissory obligation, or of why we ought to keep our promises. TRUE or FALSE: on this alternative picture, it is always wrong to break a promise.
  8. What are three ways mentioned by Feldman in which punishment promotes utility?
  9. According to Feldman, the utilitarian justification of punishment is
    (a) totally backward-looking.
    (b) totally forward-looking.
    (c) both backward- and forward-looking.
    (d) neither backward- nor forward-looking.
  10. What is the retributive theory of punishment and can a utilitarian accept it?
  11. TRUE or FALSE: Feldman rejects the utilitarian account of punishment.
  12. Consequentialism is roughly the view that we ought to do what would lead to the best outcome.  Hedonism is the view that the best outcome is the one the contains the greatest balance of pleasure minus pain.  Utilitarianism, then, is consequentialism + hedonism.  Now consider the "Justice Objection," as discussed by Feldman.  Which component of utilitarianism -- consequentialism or hedonism -- is this objection really targeting?

Smart, "Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism," The Philosophical Quarterly 6 (1956): 344-354.

  1. What is the function of moral rules for an extreme utilitarian?
  2. TRUE or FALSE: Mill is sometimes interpreted as a rule or restricted utilitarian.
  3. Recall this passage from Ross: "I would maintain, in fact, that what we are apt to describe as 'what we think' about moral questions contains a considerable amount that we do not think but know, and that this forms the standard by reference to which the truth of any moral theory has to be tested."  Would Smart agree?  Provide a quotation from Smart to support your answer.
  4. According to Smart, an extreme utilitarian is more likely to act in the ways recommended by utilitarianism if she doesn't do what?
  5. Which one of these does Smart think is true of restricted utilitarianism:
    (a) on it, moral rules are just rules of thumb
    (b) it would require Smart to donate the money to the hospital in his "desert island" example
    (c) it involves an objectionable sort of rule worship
    (d) only it can explain why everyone should obey the rule specifying which side of the road to drive on.

Feldman, "Rule Utilitarianism" from his Introductory Ethics (Prentice-Hall, 1978).

pp. 61-67:

  1. TRUE or FALSE: Feldman thinks that someone might be motivated to become a rule utilitarian due to the fact that a utilitarian theory that focuses on individual actions is subject to counterexamples that a utilitarian theory that focuses on patterns of actions may not be.
  2. As Feldman is understanding the rules that will play a role in rule utilitarianism, what does the antecedent of a rule do and what does the consequent of a rule do?
  3. What is it for two rules to be alternatives of one another?
  4. TRUE or FALSE: on Feldman's definition, the utility of a rule is the amount of pleasure that the rule would produce minus the amount of pain that it would produce.
  5. Imagine a primitive rule utilitarian who thinks that this theory, when applied to the organ harvest case, implies that it would be wrong for the doctor to kill her patient and distribute his organs to the five other patients.  Give a detailed account of what the primitive rule utilitarian would say in explaining why it would be wrong for the doctor to do this.  (To see the sort of explanation we're looking for, look at Feldman's application of the theory to the promise-to-the-dead-man case.)
  6. Which of these rules does Feldman think has the highest conformance utility?
    (a) If you have made a promise, then keep it.
    (b) If you have made a promise, then break it.
    (c) If you have made a promise, then do whatever you feel like doing.
    (d) If you have made a promise, then do whatever will maximize utility.
  7. Smart uses the terms "extreme" and "restricted" utilitarianism.  Feldman uses the terms "act" and "rule" utilitarianism.  Which correspond to which?
  8. TRUE or FALSE: Smart's thought that restricted utilitarianism collapses into extreme utilitarianism is pretty much the same as Feldman's thought (in the next reading) that primitive rule utilitarianism is extensionally equivalent to act utilitarianism.

Nozick, excerpts from Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Basic Books, 1974), 26-33: "The Minimal State and the Ultraminimal State," "Moral Constraints and Moral Goals," and "Why Side Constraints?"

  1. Nozick talks about a doctrine called a "utilitarianism of rights."  Whereas Mill's theory has us maximize the amount of pleasure minus pain in the world, this theory has us minimize what?
  2. Nozick imagines an example in which, unless an innocent person is punished for a crime he didn't commit, an angry mob will kill a bunch of people.  As we have seen, conventional act utilitarianism (like our AUh) implies that, if the utilities work out in the right way, it would be ok to punish this innocent person.  Does Nozick think that a utilitarianism of rights would also imply that it could be ok to punish the innocent person?  Why or why not?
  3. What about the view he calls the 'side-constraint view'?  Does he think this view would imply that it could be right to punish the innocent person?
  4. Nozick says that the side-constraint view reflects a principle of the philosopher Immanuel Kant.  What is this principle?
  5. Nozick notes that it is reasonable for a person to choose to undergo some pain and hardship for a greater benefit later on.  A utilitarian like Mill might point to this to justify their view that it can be right to bring pain and sacrifice to some person for the sake of the overall social good.  Nozick thinks that to use a person in this way does not sufficiently respect what? 

Tännsjö, "Moral Rights," from his Understanding Ethics, 2nd ed. (2008).

  1. According to the moral rights tradition, there are absolute moral duties and they arise from what?
  2. Suppose that each of us has a right to our own bodies.  What two things does Tännsjö say this involves?
  3. Does Tännsjö think that there is any sense in which a utilitarian can believe in moral rights?
  4. Tännsjö mentions the view that in order to have moral rights, a being must be a moral agent (or at least have the capacity to be one).  What are two things that, Tännsjö says, a moral agent can do?
  5. Suppose we are all in the state of nature, the state of things before any societies came into existence.  Even in this pre-civilized state, what does each of us own, according to the moral rights tradition?
  6. Suppose we're all still in the state of nature.  Suppose I'd like to own something else, such as some piece of land.  What do I have to do, according to John Locke, to gain rightful ownership of the piece of land?
  7. What feature does Locke's theory have and Nozick's theory lack that makes Locke's theory more similar to utilitarianism than Nozick's theory is?
  8. Why do you think Nozick considers the modern welfare state to be just a sophisticated system of slavery?
  9. Which of the following is NOT an implication of Nozick's theory, according to Tännsjö?
    (a) it allows the buying and selling of kidneys
    (b) it allows a person to pay someone to kill them
    (c) it allows the killing of one person against their will in order to to save the lives of a greater number of others
    (d) it allows a person to sell their heart.
  10. What does the moral rights theory imply about Anna's action (was it right or wrong)?  What does act utilitarianism imply about Anna's action (was it right or wrong)?  What does rule utilitarianism imply about Anna's action (was it right or wrong)?  What is your own opinion about Anna's action (was it right or wrong)?
  11. In your opinion, is it ever the case that a person has a moral obligation to help a stranger who is in need?  If you answer Yes, can you accept the moral rights theory (at least of Nozick's variety)?
  12. If a defender of a moral rights theory would like their theory to imply that animals have rights, which part of their theory do they need to adjust?
  13. According to Tännsjö, if a moral rights theory accepts that there are animal rights, what other sort of being will the theory have to say also has rights?
  14. Tännsjö assumes that if fetuses have rights (such as a right to life), then it follows that abortion will be morally wrong.  Do you agree that this follows?
  15. According to Tännsjö, the utilitarian takes the welfare of ______________ just as seriously as the welfare of human beings.

Tiberius, "Prudential Value" in I. Hirose and J. Olson (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Value Theory (Oxford University Press, 2015).


  1. FILL IN THE BLANK: Prudential value is the ____ ____ a person?
  2. What are subjective theories of well-being?
  3. Tiberius identifies two criteria for evaluating theories of well-being.  What names does she give them?
  4. Which criterion is the life of Dancing Diane supposed to do well on and which is it supposed to do badly on?  And why?
  5. Which criterion is the life of Recluse Rex supposed to do well on and which is it supposed to do badly on?  And why?


  1. According to Tiberius, hedonists say that "the absence of pain" is good in itself for person.  Think of a reason why a hedonist should NOT want to say that the absence of pain is good in itself for person.
  2. Why does Nozick think that many people would not choose to use the experience machine?
  3. And what is this supposed to show?

Bentham, excerpt from Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1781).

Ch. I, §§I-IX; Ch 2.

  1. According to Bentham, what are the two things that pleasure and pain determine?
  2. What according to Bentham is the meaning of the phrase 'the interest of the community'?
  3. Bentham mentions four factors that, he says, determine the intrinsic value of a pleasure or a pain.  In the last reading, Heathwood mentioned only two.  Which two?  Why do you think Heathwood excluded the other two?
  4. What according to Bentham is the value in owning some piece of property?

Nozick, "The Experience Machine," from his Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Basic Books, 1974), 42-45.

We'll take our questions for this reading from someone else.  Click here and answer the questions on the lefthand side of the page.  Write out your answers in your notes as you normally would.

Heathwood, "Faring Well and Getting What You Want," from R. Shafer-Landau (ed.) The Ethical Life, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2014).

At the end of this reading you'll see seven questions.  Use these as the readings questions for this reading.  Write out your answers to them in your notes as you normally would.

Rice, "Defending the Objective List Theory of Well-Being" Ratio 26 (2013): 196-211.

  1. What does Rice mean in calling his theory "objective"?
  2. Section 2 of Rice's paper implicitly alludes to three different theories of the value of friendship.  Describe each such theory.
  3. TRUE or FALSE: Rice thinks that an explanatory objective list theory is not possible and that the best an objective list theorist can do is enumerate a list of goods without any explanation as to why they are good.
  4. According to Rice, "A major advantage of the objective list theory is that it coheres with people's explanatory objectivist judgments about well-being."  Give one example of the sort of objectivist judgment about well-being that Rice is talking about.
  5. TRUE or FALSE: Rice endorses pluralism about well-being.
  6. Consider the "less-realistic case" that Rice presents on p. 208.  What does the theory of welfare suggested in Heathwood 2014 (our last reading) imply about the well-being of the people in these cases?  And what does Rice's theory of well-being imply about the well-being of the people in these cases?  Which theory is right?
  7. Consider this argument:
    P1. There is widespread disagreement over what the basic human goods are.
    P2. If there were facts about what the basic human goods are that we were capable of knowing, then there probably wouldn't be such widespread disagreement over what the basic human goods are.
    C. Thus, there probably aren't facts about what the basic human goods are that we are capable of knowing.
    Which premise of this argument would Rice deny?


-- The End --

thanks for reading!