PHIL 3100 -- Ethical Theory
Prof. Chris Heathwood
T.A. Jay Geyer
University of Colorado Boulder
due Thursday, April 23 in class
Option 1: Open Topic: Write a 1,000-1,500 word (3-5 page) paper in which you defend, by means of rational argument, a thesis of your choosing on one of the following topics:
- The Golden Rule
- Act Utilitarianism
- The Organ-Harvest Objection to Utilitarianism
- Rule Utilitarianism
- Hedonism about Well-Being
- The Argument from Psychological Hedonism
- Subjectivism vs. Objectivism about Well-Being
- Desire Satisfactionism
- The Objective List Theory
- The Experience Machine Argument
- Rossian Pluralism
- Ross' Argument from Promises Against Utilitarianism
- The Alleged Irrationality of Deontology
- Moral Uncertainty
- or some other topic in the Normative Ethics of Behavior or Axiology
Indicate at the top of your paper that you have chosen the "Open Topic" option, and indicate what topic you are writing on. Before you begin, you are required read the Philosophy Paper FAQ. Read it more than once.
Option 2: Pre-Assigned Topic: Write a 1,000-1,500 word (roughly 3-5 page) paper on one of the topics below. Indicate at the top of your paper, by number and name, which topic you have chosen. Before you begin, you are required read the Philosophy Paper FAQ. Read it more than once.
If you choose one of the options below, carefully read the "Your paper should do all of these things" part of question 1. Here I explicitly lay out how the elements of a pre-assigned topic relate to the Background/Thesis/Argument schema on the Philosophy Paper FAQ.
Below I start with some rather specific and spelled-out paper prompts and end with some less detailed and more open-ended prompts.
- The Organ Harvest Objection to Utilitarianism. One interesting objection to act utilitarianism is the organ harvest objection. What is act utilitarianism? What is the organ objection to act utilitarianism. Does it refute act utilitarianism?
Your paper should do all of these things:
(i) clearly explain act utilitarianism;
(ii) clearly explain the organ objection to utilitarianism;
[Parts (i) and (ii) would constitute the Background portion of your paper; see Philosophy Paper FAQ.]
(iii) say whether or not you believe this to refute act utilitarianism.
[The view you assert here would be the Thesis of your paper. Accordingly, this view should be stated up front at the beginning of the paper.]
If you think the argument does not refute act utilitarianism, explain why not.
[What you say here (if you took this route) would constitute the Argument of your paper. In this case the argument of your paper would essentially be an objection to the organ-harvest argument.]
If you think the organ-harvest argument does refute act utilitarianism, consider what an act utilitarianism might say in response to the objection (such as a response we discussed in class), and why you think this response does not succeed.
[If you chose this option, what you say here would be the Argument of your paper.]
- Is Rule Utilitarianism the answer to the utilitarian's problems?
Your paper should do all of these things:
(i) explain the doctrine of rule utilitarianism;
(ii) explain one reason for preferring rule utilitarianism over act utilitarianism (this might come in the form of showing that a case that is a counterexample to act utilitarianism is not a counterexample to rule utilitarianism);
(iii) present an objection to rule utilitarianism (some examples include Feldman's "extensional equivalence" or "collapse" objection and Smart's "rule worship" objection, but it could be an objection of your own devising);
(iv) evaluate that objection.
- The Experience Machine Objection to Hedonism. One interesting objection to hedonism about welfare is the experience machine objection. What is hedonism about welfare? What is the experience machine objection to hedonism about welfare? Does it refute hedonism about welfare?
Your paper should do all of these things:
(i) clearly explain hedonism about welfare;
(ii) clearly explain the experience machine objection; there are different ways to put the objection, so you'll have to choose what you think is the most interesting or best way to put it (you might also briefly discuss other, less good ways to put it, if you have space)
(iii) explain whether or not you believe this to refute hedonism about welfare. If not, explain why not. If you think it does refute hedonism about welfare, you should consider what a hedonist might say in response to the objection, and why you think this response does not succeed.
- Consequentialism vs. Deontology. One of the most important disputes in the normative ethics of behavior is whether consequentialism or deontology is true. What is consequentialism and what is deontology? Which one is true?
Your paper should do all these things:
(i) clearly explain both consequentialism and deontology;
(ii) explain your main reason or reasons for thinking one of these theories to be the right one (this might involve explaining problems with the other theory);
(iii) identify and clearly explain what you take to be the strongest problem or objection to your view;
(iv) defend your view against this objection.
- Objectivism vs. Subjectivism about Welfare. Which is the right approach to welfare, objectivism or subjectivism? (Be sure that your paper explains what each of these approach is before explaining which one is right and why.)
- The Golden Rule. Some believe that the "golden rule" is the fundamental principle of ethics. Are they right? (Be sure that your paper states and explains clearly and explicitly just how you understand the golden rule. Be sure to illustrate it with examples. Be sure to consider and respond to an objection or two to your view on the golden rule.)
- The Problem of Irrelevant Desires. The philosopher Derek Parfit wrote,
"Suppose that I meet a stranger who has what is believed to be a fatal disease. My sympathy is aroused, and I strongly want this stranger to be cured. We never meet again. Later, unknown to me, this stranger is cured. On the Unrestricted Desire-Fulfillment Theory, this event is good for me, and makes my life go better. This is not plausible. We should reject this theory." (Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 494)
Is Parfit right? If not, defend the desire-fulfillment theory from his objection? If he is right, is there a way to revise the desire theory so that it avoids this counterexample? If so, what is the best way? If not, what is wrong with some possible ways? (Be sure that your paper provides the necessary background of what the desire theory of welfare is.)
- An Argument from Disagreement for Hedonism? It seems like lots of people would agree that pleasure is intrinsically good for people and pain is intrinsically bad for people. Perhaps it's also true that for any other putative intrinsic good or bad, there would be considerable disagreement over whether it really is intrinsically good or bad for people. Is this the makings of an argument for hedonism? What would such an argument look like? Is it a good argument?
- The Importance of Promising-Keeping. According to W.D. Ross,
"to make a promise is not merely to adapt an ingenious device for promoting the general well-being; it is to put oneself in a new relation to one person in particular, a relation which creates a specifically new prima facie duty to him, not reducible to the duty of promoting the general well-being of society." (The Right and the Good, p. 38).
Is Ross right?
- Is Deontology Irrational? In class, we presented an argument like this:
P1. If we all successfully follow Rossian Pluralism, we'll be less well-off as a whole than if we all successfully follow Utilitarianism.
P2. It would be irrational for us to follow a theory under which we would be less well-off as a whole.
C1. Therefore, it would be irrational for us to follow Rossian Pluralism.
P3. If it would be irrational for us to follow some moral theory, then that theory cannot be the correct moral theory.
C2. Therefore, Rossian Pluralism cannot be the correct moral theory.
Is this a good argument? In discussing this question, give the rationale for each premise of the argument. If you think it is a good argument, present and rebut one or two objections that a deontologist might give to it.
- Moral Uncertainty. Moral hedging is the view that, if two different moral theories prescribe different actions, and if one is uncertain which moral theory is right, one should take into account not only your best estimate of the likelihood of one theory being right, but also the differences in moral value each theory attributes to the two actions when deciding which action to choose. First, describe moral hedging and why it seems to be an attractive approach to dealing with cases of moral uncertainty. Then, select and describe one major objection to moral hedging that we discussed in class. Do you think the objection succeeds? If so, why? Is there a satisfactory alternative to hedging? If the objection does not succeed, why not?