A frequent argument is that Darwin’s theory of evolution has or should revolutionize our conception of the relation between humans and animals, though society has yet to take account of that revolution in our treatment of animals. On this view, after Darwin demonstrated the essential continuity of humans and animals, traditional morality must be rejected as speciesist in seeing humans as fundamentally distinct from other animals. In fact, the argument is of dubious merit. While there is plenty of room for (...) improving our treatment of animals, it is unlikely that these shortcomings can be blamed on scientific ignorance, or that knowledge of the theory of evolution has any clear moral implications for our treatment of animals. (shrink)
Sam Harris’ new book “The Moral Landscape” is the latest in a series of attempts to provide a new “science of morality.” This essay argues that such a project is unlikely to succeed, using Harris’ text as an example of the major philosophical problems that would be faced by any such theory. In particular, I argue that those trying to construct a scientific ethics need pay far more attention to the tradition of moral philosophy, rather than assuming the debate is (...) simply between a scientific ethics and a “supernatural” ethics provided by religion. (shrink)
The concept of honor continues to be among the most widely misunderstood of human ideals. It has long been claimed that honor is an essentially external ideal, motivated by shame at one's appearance before others rather than an inward sense of guilt, the implication being that honor is a superficial moral ideal and one superseded by the higher ideal of the moral conscience. This account does not, however, stand up to scrutiny; honor is a genuinely "internal" value as much as (...) virtue, and when properly understood cannot be understood as somehow more superficial or less morally advanced than the modern ideal of virtue. (shrink)
On the traditional doctrine of self-defense, defensive force is permissible not only against Culpable Aggressors but against Innocent Aggressors as well (for example, psychotic aggressors). Some moral philosophers have recently challenged this view, arguing that one may not harm innocent attackers because morality requires culpability as an essential condition of being liable to defensive force. This essay examines and rejects this challenge as both a violation of common sense and as insufficiently grounded in convincing reasons from moral theory.
Introduction -- The principles of self-defense -- The leading theories of self-defense -- The doctrine of double effect -- Double effect and common sense morality -- Can double effect justify self-defense? -- Conclusion: Justifying self-defense.
In the middle of the twentieth century, many philosophers came to believe that the problem of morally justifying punishment had finally been solved. Defended most famously by Hart and Rawls, the so-called “Mixed Theory” of punishment claimed that justifying punishment required recognizing that the utilitarian and retributive theories were in fact answers to two different questions: utilitarianism answered the question of why we have punishment as an institution, while retribution answered the question of how to punish individual wrongdoers. We could (...) thus reconcile the two great competing theories of punishment, and show how they were both right and not in conflict at all. Unfortunately, it gradually became apparent that the solution would not work. This essay attempts to set out thereasons why the Mixed Theory was bound to fail, and why the problem of reconciling the utilitarian and retributive goals remains with us. (shrink)
The doctrine of karma and rebirth is often praised for its ability to offer a successful solution to the Problem of Evil. This essay evaluates such a claim by considering whether the doctrine can function as a systematic theodicy, as an explanation of all human suffering in terms of wrongs done in either this or past lives. This purported answer to the Problem of Evil must face a series of objections, including the problem of any lack of memory of past (...) lives, the lack of proportionality between wrongdoing and the observed suffering in the world, the problem of infinite regress of explanation, and the problem of compatibility of free will with karmic determinism. These objections, either separately or taken together, provide (it is argued) sufficient reason to doubt whether the doctrine of karma and rebirth can in fact provide a satisfactory theodicy. (shrink)
: The doctrine of karma and rebirth is often praised for its ability to offer a successful solution to the Problem of Evil. This essay evaluates such a claim by considering whether the doctrine can function as a systematic theodicy, as an explanation of all human suffering in terms of wrongs done in either this or past lives. This purported answer to the Problem of Evil must face a series of objections, including the problem of anylackofmemoryofpastlives,the lack of proportionality between (...) wrongdoing and the observed suffering in the world, the problem of infinite regress of explanation, and the problem of compatibility of free will with karmic determinism. These objections, either separately or taken together, provide (it is argued) sufficient reason to doubt whether the doctrine of karma and rebirth can in fact provide a satisfactory theodicy. (shrink)
In this essay I analyze and defend the common sense moral conviction that terrorism, i.e., the use of violence against civilians for political or military purposes, is always morally impermissible. Terrorism violates the fundamental moral prohibition against harming the innocent, even to produce greater overall good. It is therefore just the sort of case that serves as a refutation of consequentialist moral theories. From a deontological perspective, the only remotely plausible forms of justification for a terrorist act would be that (...) it constitutes a form of justifiable punishment of the guilty, or that it is legitimate self-defense against an aggressor. But an examination of the fundamental moral and legal principles of punishment and self-defense demonstrates that neither of these claims can succeed. Since terrorism cannot be justified either as punishment or as self-defense, it cannot be morally justified at all. (shrink)