Affirmative action programs remain controversial, I suspect, partly because the familiar arguments for and against them start from significantly different moral perspectives. Thus I want to step back for a while from the details of debate about particular programs and give attention to the moral viewpoints presupposed in different types of argument. My aim, more specifically, is to compare the “messages” expressed when affirmative action is defended from different moral perspectives. Exclusively forward-looking arguments, I suggest, tend to express the wrong (...) message, but this is also true of exclusively backward-looking arguments. However, a moral outlook that focuses on cross-temporal narrative values suggests a more appropriate account of what affirmative action should try to express. Assessment of the message, admittedly, is only one aspect of a complex issue, but it is a relatively neglected one. My discussion takes for granted some common-sense ideas about the communicative function of action, and so I begin with these. Actions, as the saying goes, often speak louder than words. There are times, too, when only actions can effectively communicate the message we want to convey and times when giving a message is a central part of the purpose of action. What our actions say to others depends largely, though not entirely, upon our avowed reasons for acting; and this is a matter for reflective decision, not something we discover later by looking back at what we did and its effects. The decision is important because “the same act” can have very different consequences, depending upon how we choose to justify it. (shrink)
Philosophers have debated for millennia about whether moral requirements are always rational to follow. The background for these debates is often what I shall call “the self-interest model.” The guiding assumption here is that the basic demand of reason, to each person, is that one must, above all, advance one's self-interest. Alternatively, debate may be framed by a related, but significantly different, assumption: the idea that the basic rational requirement is to develop and pursue a set of personal ends in (...) an informed, efficient, and coherent way, whether one's choice of ends is based on self-interested desires or not. For brevity I refer to this as “the coherence-and-efficiency model.” Advocates of both models tend to think that, while it is sufficiently clear in principle what the rational thing to do is, what remains in doubt is whether it is always rational to be moral. They typically assume that morality is concerned, entirely or primarily, with our relations to others, especially with obligations that appear to require some sacrifice or compromise with the pursuit of self-interest. (shrink)
This essay first distinguishes different questions regarding moral objectivity and relativism and then sketches a broadly Kantian position on two of these questions. First, how, if at all, can we derive, justify, or support specific moral principles and judgments from more basic moral standards and values? Second, how, if at all, can the basic standards such as my broadly Kantian perspective, be defended? Regarding the first question, the broadly Kantian position is that from ideas in Kant's later formulations of the (...) Categorical Imperative, especially human dignity and rational autonomous law-making, we can develop an appropriate moral perspective for identifying and supporting more specific principles. Both the deliberative perspective and the derivative principles can be viewed as “constructed,” but in different senses. In response to the second question, the essay examines two of Kant's strategies for defending his basic perspective and the important background of his arguments against previous moral theories. (shrink)
Epistemology, as I understand it, is a branch of philosophy especially concerned with general questions about how we can know various things or at least justify our beliefs about them. It questions what counts as evidence and what are reasonable sources of doubt. Traditionally, episte-mology focuses on pervasive and apparently basic assumptions covering a wide range of claims to knowledge or justified belief rather than very specific, practical puzzles. For example, traditional epistemologists ask “How do we know there are material (...) objects?” and not “How do you know which are the female beetles?” Similarly, moral epistemology, as I understand it, is concerned with general questions about how we can know or justify our beliefs about moral matters. Its focus, again, is on quite general, pervasive, and apparently basic assumptions about what counts as evidence, what are reasonable sources of doubt, and what are the appropriate procedures for justifying particular moral claims. (shrink)
Ancient moral philosophers, especially Aristotle and his followers, typically shared the assumption that ethics is primarily concerned with how to achieve the final end for human beings, a life of “happiness” or “human flourishing.” This final end was not a subjective condition, such as contentment or the satisfaction of our preferences, but a life that could be objectively determined to be appropriate to our nature as human beings. Character traits were treated as moral virtues because they contributed well toward this (...) ideal life, either as means to it or as constitutive aspects of it. Traits that tended to prevent a “happy” life were considered vices, even if they contributed to a life that was pleasant and what a person most wanted. The idea of “happiness” was central, then, in philosophical efforts to specify what we ought to do, what sort of persons we should try to become, and what sort of life a wise person would hope for. (shrink)
What, if anything, are we morally required to do on behalf of others besides respecting their rights? And why is such regard for others a reasonable moral requirement? These two questions have long been major concerns of ethical theory, but the answers that philosophers give tend to vary with their beliefs about human nature. More specifically, their answers typically depend on the position they take on a third-question: To what extent, if any, is it possible for us to act altruistically?
Contemporary discussions of practical reason often refer vaguely to the Kantian conception of reasons as an alternative to various means-ends theories, but it is rarely clear what this is supposed to be, except that somehow moral concerns are supposed to fare better under the Kantian conception. The theories of Nagel, Gewirth, Darwall, and Donagan have been labeled “Kantian” because they deviate strikingly from standard preference models, but their roots in Kant have not been traced in detail and important differences may (...) go unnoticed. All this is not surprising, of course, because Kant’s conception of practical reason is inseparable from his ideas of freedom, which are notoriously difficult and controversial. It is hard enough to characterize these ideas accurately in Kantian terminology, harder still to explain them in terms of contemporary debates about reasons for action. (shrink)
The fitness of a eukaryote hinges on the coordinated function of the products of its nuclear and mitochondrial genomes in achieving oxidative phosphorylation. I propose that sexual selection plays a key role in the maintenance of mitonuclear coadaptation across generations because it enables pre-zygotic sorting for coadapted mitonuclear genotypes. At each new generation, sexual reproduction creates new combinations of nuclear and mitochondrial genes, and the potential arises for mitonuclear incompatibilities and reduced fitness. In reviewing the literature, I hypothesize that individuals (...) engaged in mate choice select partners with correct species-typical mitochondrial and nuclear genotypes as well as individuals with highly functional cellular respiration. The implication is that mate choice for compatible nuclear and mitochondrial genes can play a significant role in generating the patterns of ornamentation and preferences observed in animals. A number of testable predictions emerge from this mitonuclear compatibility hypothesis of sexual selection. Products of mitochondrial and nuclear genes co-function to enable cellular respiration, so it is critical that compatible mitochondrial and nuclear genes be matched each generation. I propose that a core function of mate choice is selection for mitochondrial and nuclear genes that create compatible and functional combinations in offspring. (shrink)
The moral significance of preserving natural environments is not entirely an issue of rights and social utility, for a person’s attitude toward nature may be importantly connected with virtues or human excellences. The question is, “What sort of person would destroy the natural environment--or even see its value solely in cost/benefit terms?” The answer I suggest is that willingness to do so may well reveal the absence of traits which are a natural basis for a proper humility, self-acceptance, gratitude, and (...) appreciation of the good in others. (shrink)
Collected and edited by Noah Levin -/- Table of Contents: -/- UNIT ONE: INTRODUCTION TO CONTEMPORARY ETHICS: TECHNOLOGY, AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, AND IMMIGRATION 1 The “Trolley Problem” and Self-Driving Cars: Your Car’s Moral Settings (Noah Levin) 2 What is Ethics and What Makes Something a Problem for Morality? (David Svolba) 3 Letter from the Birmingham City Jail (Martin Luther King, Jr) 4 A Defense of Affirmative Action (Noah Levin) 5 The Moral Issues of Immigration (B.M. Wooldridge) 6 The Ethics of our (...) Digital Selves (Noah Levin) -/- UNIT TWO: TORTURE, DEATH, AND THE “GREATER GOOD” 7 The Ethics of Torture (Martine Berenpas) 8 What Moral Obligations do we have (or not have) to Impoverished Peoples? (B.M. Wooldridge) 9 Euthanasia, or Mercy Killing (Nathan Nobis) 10 An Argument Against Capital Punishment (Noah Levin) 11 Common Arguments about Abortion (Nathan Nobis & Kristina Grob) 12 Better (Philosophical) Arguments about Abortion (Nathan Nobis & Kristina Grob) -/- UNIT THREE: PERSONS, AUTONOMY, THE ENVIRONMENT, AND RIGHTS 13 Animal Rights (Eduardo Salazar) 14 John Rawls and the “Veil of Ignorance” (Ben Davies) 15 Environmental Ethics: Climate Change (Jonathan Spelman) 16 Rape, Date Rape, and the “Affirmative Consent” Law in California (Noah Levin) 17 The Ethics of Pornography: Deliberating on a Modern Harm (Eduardo Salazar) 18 The Social Contract (Thomas Hobbes) -/- UNIT FOUR: HAPPINESS 19 Is Pleasure all that Matters? Thoughts on the “Experience Machine” (Prabhpal Singh) 20 Utilitarianism (J.S. Mill) 21 Utilitarianism: Pros and Cons (B.M. Wooldridge) 22 Existentialism, Genetic Engineering, and the Meaning of Life: The Fifths (Noah Levin) 23 The Solitude of the Self (Elizabeth Cady Stanton) 24 Game Theory, the Nash Equilibrium, and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (Douglas E. Hill) -/- UNIT FIVE: RELIGION, LAW, AND ABSOLUTE MORALITY 25 The Myth of Gyges and The Crito (Plato) 26 God, Morality, and Religion (Kristin Seemuth Whaley) 27 The Categorical Imperative (Immanuel Kant) 28 The Virtues (Aristotle) 29 Beyond Good and Evil (Friedrich Nietzsche) 30 Other Moral Theories: Subjectivism, Relativism, Emotivism, Intuitionism, etc. (Jan F. Jacko). (shrink)
In a morally perfect world we would not face many of the hard choices which confront us in the real world. If everyone were fully conscientious, moral dilemmas might still be posed by natural circumstances; but many of our most difficult and tragic choices would not arise. In particular, we would never need to decide whether we should ourselves do a lesser evil in order to prevent someone else from doing a greater one. Unfortunately we do not live in such (...) a perfect world. Through greed, malice, jealousy, false pride, or whatever, people are prepared to commit the most heinous crimes against innocent victims; and sometimes, it seems, they can be prevented only by means which no one would consider in the morally perfect world. One must choose among evils; doing a lesser evil oneself or allowing others to do an even greater evil. (shrink)
In thirteen specially written essays, leading philosophers explore Kantian themes in moral and political philosophy that are prominent in the work of Thomas E. Hill, Jr., such as respect and self-respect, practical reason, conscience, and duty. In conclusion Hill offers an overview of his work and responses to the preceding essays.
An intense debate is currently underway in the Pacific Northwest over whether remnant old-growth forests should be preserved or harvested. Old-growth forests can be viewed (1) as objects used instrumentally to serve human welfare or (2) as entities that possess value in themselves and are thus worthy of moral consideration. I compare the instrumental view suggested by economic analysis with the biocentric and ecocentric alternatives and suggest a reconciliation of these approaches in the context of old-growth preservation.
Thomas E. Hill, Jr., interprets, explains, and extends Kant's moral theory in a series of essays that highlight its relevance to contemporary ethics. The book is divided into four sections. The first three essays cover basic themes: they introduce the major aspects of Kant's ethics; explain different interpretations of the Categorical Imperative; and sketch a 'constructivist' reading of Kantian normative ethics distinct from the Kantian constructivisms of Onora O'Neill and John Rawls. The next section is on virtue, and the (...) essays collected here discuss whether it is a virtue to regard the natural environment as intrinsically valuable, address puzzles about moral weakness, contrast ideas of virtue in Kant's ethics and in 'virtue ethics,' and comment on duties to oneself, second-order duties, and moral motivation in Kant's Doctrine of Virtue. Four essays on moral rules propose human dignity as a guiding value for a system of norms rather than a self-standing test for isolated cases, contrast the Kantian perspectives on moral rules with rule-utilitarianism and then with Jonathan Dancy's moral particularism, and distinguish often-conflated questions about moral relativism. Hill goes on to outline a Kantian position on two central issues. In the last section of the book, three essays on practical questions show how a broadly Kantian theory, if critical of Kant's official theory of law, might re-visit questions about revolution, prison reform, and forcible interventions in other countries for humanitarian purposes. In the final essay, Hill develops the implications of Kant's Doctrine of Virtue for the responsibility of by-standers to oppression. (shrink)