Study Questions for Midterm, Philosophy 101, Spring 2011

(from the bottom of each set of notes)

Study Questions for Ch1, Rachels: What is Morality?

1. What does Rachels think about the relationship between morality and feeling? Do you agree with him on this? Why or why not?

2. According to Rachels, is morality a matter of personal taste? Why or why not? Do agree with him? Explain.

3. According to Rachels, what determines if an act is right or wrong?

4. Describe the three cases Rachels analyzes in chapter one (e.g., Baby Teresa, Jodie and Mary, and Tracy Latimer) and identify and assess some of the moral principles that might be applied in these cases.

Study questions for Chapter Two: Cultural Relativism


1.         Consider the following argument: "The burial practices of the Callatians differ from those of the Greeks. The Eskimos have very different marriage customs than we do. There are an indefinite number of examples of this cultural diversity in moral codes. Since different cultures have different moral codes, it follows that there are no right answers to moral questions." Does Rachels think this is a good argument? Explain why or why not in detail.

2.         Consider the following statement: "What is right for members of a culture is determined by whatever their culture's moral code says is right." What are two of the consequences which Rachels thinks follow from this position? Does Rachels agree or disagree with these consequences? Does he agree or disagree with the original statement? Explain why.

3.         Describe the practice of “female circumcision” as it is manifested in several African countries. Does this practice support or cause problems for the doctrine of cultural relativism? Why might someone believe that this example undermines cultural relativism? Is it intolerant to try to prevent this practice from continuing to occur in other cultures?

4.         Does Rachels think all cultures share some values in common? Explain Rachels' argument for either agreeing or disagreeing with this position.

5.         Give an example in which it looks like we have a significant disagreement in value between two cultures and yet the disagreement between the two is really a disagreement in belief about factual issues.

6.         What does Rachels think we can learn from cultural relativism? What dimension of this doctrine is true and valuable, on his view?

7.         Is it "an objective moral truth" that we should be tolerant of others? Is it always appropriate to be tolerant of the behavior of others and other cultures? Why or why not? What does Rachels think about this?

8.         What is contextual or situational relativism?

9.         Are there any moral rules which do not have exceptions (which are absolute)?

10.       Explain the difference between moral rules which are universally accepted and moral rules which are universally applicable.

Questions on Rolston, Does the Aesthetic Appreciation of Landscapes Need to be Science Based?

1. Does Rolston believe that a scientific understanding of nature is necessary and/or sufficient for the aesthetic appreciation of nature? Does he think it is necessary for the most appropriate aesthetic appreciation of nature? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

2. What are the two components that Rolston thinks are necessary for a proper aesthetic appreciation of nature? Which of these does Daniel Boone lack? Which of these might a scientist lack?

3. If one aesthetic appreciation is based on a false belief, does that mean one’s appreciation is deficient? Using an example explain both Rolston’s view and your own view.

4. Do you accept that there are better and worse aesthetic appreciations of nature?

5. Is science the only way we can know what something really is?

6. Must one appreciate an object for what it is in order to properly appreciate the object?

Chapter Three: Subjectivism

1. What is subjectivism about morality? How is it different from cultural relativism? What does Rachels think about subjectivism? What is Rachels' own position about the nature of morality? Is it subjectivistic or objectivistic? Explain.

2. Define simple subjectivism. What are the two objections that Rachels gives to simple subjectivism?

3. Define emotivism (and distinguish it from simple subjectivism). Explain how emotivism avoids the two objections to simple subjectivism. What is Rachels objection to emotivism?

4. Rachels argues that the appeal of subjectivism is based on a false belief that we only have two options (a “false dilemma”). What are those two options? What is the third option that Rachels suggests we could (and should) adopt?

5. According to Rachels, are there proofs in ethics? (What is one of Rachels’ examples.) What are some of the reasons Rachels gives for why people think there are no proofs in ethics?

6. Rachels considers the charge that homosexuality is unnatural in three different ways. What are those ways and what is Rachels’ evaluation of those claims?


Study Questions on Taylor’s Cosmological Argument

1. Does Taylor deny that the world could have always existed? Do you think it is possible the world could have always existed?

2. Why doesn't the possibility that the universe has always existed undermine the possibility of arguing that God must exist to explain the existence of the world?

3. What is the difference between creation as a preceding cause bringing something into existence and creation as ontological dependence?

4. What is a necessary being? A contingent being? An impossible being? An eternal being? Give examples. Is a necessary being an eternal being? Might a contingent being be eternal? Is the idea of a necessary being intelligible?

5. According to Taylor, can God exist without a cause? Does Taylor think God is an exception to the principle of sufficient reason?

6. What is problematic about the notion of God as a self-caused being in the sense of a being who brought him/herself into existence? In what sense does Taylor think God is self-caused?

7. Why can't the world have come into existence without a cause or have always existed without any cause?

Questions on Russell on Religion and Christianity

1. Russell claims: "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God. . . . There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor on the other hand is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all." Which of these statements would Richard Taylor agree with and which disagree with and why? Where they disagree, do you support Taylor or Russell? Why?

2. What must one believe in order to be "a Christian" according to Russell? Is this a good definition of "Christian?"

3. What are Russell's reasons for not being a Christian? Are these good reasons? Why or why not?

4. What "moral defects" does Russell find in Jesus' character? Do you agree that these are moral defects? Why or why not?

5. According to Russell, what motivates people to be religious (besides fear of eternal damnation)? Do you think he is right? Why or why not?

6. Explain Russell's reasons for claiming that religion has, on balance, been a negative force in human history. Do you agree with him?

7. Explain why Russell thinks that religious belief is "unworthy of free and rational people." Do you think he is right?

8. Can an atheist be a morally good person? Why or why not? Can an atheist consistently believe in objective morality? Why or why not? Is it true that "without God, everything is permissible?" Why might some think this is true?

9. Explain the difference between atheism and agnosticism. Is it more difficult to defend atheism than agnosticism? Why or why not?

10. According to Russell, the theory of evolution undermines the design argument for God’s existence (pp. 45-46). What is the design argument and how does evolution undermine it?

11. Is the theory of evolution atheistic? That is, if evolution is a true scientific theory does that make religious belief untenable?

Study questions Cutting on Faith and Philosophy

1. What role (positive and negative) does Cutting see for philosophy in regards to religious beliefs?

2. Does philosophical consensus support atheism or theism?

3. What are basic beliefs and in what way might religious beliefs be basic?

Questions on William James’, The Will to Believe

1. What are the two ways that James suggests we can arrive at beliefs?

2. Are we free to choose to believe in something or not believe in it? What reasons are there for thinking that belief is not under control of the will? Give examples to explain this point.

3. Does James think that our passionate nature ever does decide our beliefs? If so, give examples. If not, explain why not.

4. James argues that Clifford lets his passionate decide something of great importance and hence makes a choice that is not based on sufficient evidence. What is this choice?

5. Does James think that it is ever appropriate for the passions to decide our beliefs? If so when? If not, why not?

6. What does James mean by a genuine option? Explain each of its three components using examples. Do you think religion is a genuine option? Why or why not?

7. Explain the difference between a forced option and one that is not forced? Give examples of each. Is belief in God a forced option? Why or why not? Would God treat agnostics and atheists the same?

8. Explain the difference between a live and dead option. Between a momentous and trivial option.

9. James provides a couple of reasons for thinking under certain conditions it is irrational to wait for sufficient evidence before one believes something. What are those two reasons.

10. Why does James think it is irrational to wait until one has conclusive proof for God's existence before one believes in God?

11. Can the desire for something being true ever help bring about that truth? Give an example. Could this be the case with God's existence?

12. How might refusal to believe shut one off from evidence crucial to confirming the belief?

Questions on Pojman, Faith, Hope, and Doubt

1. Does Pojman think belief in God is necessary for (Christian) religious faith? Why or why not?

2. Does Pojman think doubt is incompatible with religious faith?

3. Explain Pojman’s distinctions between belief, acceptance, and faith and the relations between them. Which are “volitional” (chosen) and which not?

4. What does he mean by “volitionalism?” Does Pojman accept volitionalism? Why or why not? Do you accept it? Can we willingly and directly choose our beliefs?

5. Does Pojman believe we can be judged for our beliefs? Why or why not?

6. Does Pojman think it appropriate for God to judge people based on whether or not they have religious belief? Why or why not?

7. Does Pojman believe we can indirectly will to have certain beliefs? How?

8. Concerning belief, does Pojman agree with Clifford or James? Would Pojman accept Pascal’s wager?

9. According to Pojman, does hope require possibility, allow for certainty, and/or involve motivation? Is hope volitional? Can we morally evaluate each other’s hope’s?

10. According to Pojman, religious faith involves something other than belief in God. What does he think it involves?

Questions on The Problem of Evil (Dostoevsky and Hick)

1. What is the problem of evil? State the problem as clearly and explicitly as you can. What sort of God would not have a problem of evil?

2. What does it mean to provide a "theodicy?"

3. Explain the difference between moral and nonmoral evil, as Hick defines it.

4. Is it inappropriate to claim that what happens in nature (independent of any human or divine involvement) is morally wrong? Why or why not? Explain how one might negatively value what happens in nature (independent of human involvement) without saying that something morally wrong is taking place.

5. State Hick's free will defense for the existence of evil as fully and forcefully as you can. Is this an adequate theodicy? Why or why not?

6. Does the free will defense address all kinds of evils(=bads) in the world? Why or why not?

7. How might Hick answer the following questions/objections: Why didn't God make people who were unable to sin? Why didn't God make people who were able to sin, but in fact never did sin? Why didn't God just not make people given they would create so much evil?

8. Why does Hick think that it is no limitation of God's power to say God can't produce the logically impossible? Give examples.

9. What reasons does Hick give for thinking that a good bit of hardship and suffering is necessary for the best possible world? Do you agree with Hick on this point?

10. Is an afterlife a necessary part of a theodicy? What does Hick think about this and what are his reasons for his view?

11. What is the difference between a bookkeeping view of the rewards of heaven and Hick's views concerning the infinite future good?

12. How would Hick respond to Ivan's and Alyosha's suggestion (in the reading from Dostoevsky) that all the value in the world is not worth the pain and suffering of one small child tortured to death? Do you think it is worth it?

13. Evaluate the following theodicies: God didn't create evil, humans did; There is more good in the world than evil; Evil is necessary as a contrast with good; God's ways are incomprehensible and God has reasons for allowing evil that we can't understand; We have no right to question God's ways.


Rachels, Ch 4: Does Morality Depend on Religion?

1. Describe the divine command theory of morality. What are the two interpretations of this theory that Rachels discusses. Explain how they are different from each other. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each interpretation?

2. Describe the Natural Law Theory of the relationship between religion and morality (in Chapter Four of Rachels). Explain the senses in which it ties religion and morality together and also how it keeps them separate. Do you agree with this theory of the relationship between religion and morality? Why or why not?

3. Explain in what sense Rachels thinks the relation between religion and morality is like the relation between religion and science. Do you agree with him about this? Why?

4. Discuss some of the problems that Rachels identifies with accepting the dictates of one's church or of a holy book as morally authoritative. In what way does Rachels' own position on the nature of morality conflict with such approaches to ethics?

Ch 5: Psychological and Ethical Egoism

1.         What is egoism? What is altruism? What is hedonism? How is it different than egoism?

2.         What is psychological egoism? What is ethical egoism? How are they different? Is either (or both) a theory about the nature of morality (i.e., a moral theory)? Explain.

3.         Does it make sense to believe both theories at once? Does one theory provide evidence or support for the other? (If psychological egoism is true does it follow that ethical egoism is also true? How about the other way around?) If both psychological and ethical egoism are true, what follows about the rightness or wrongness of our actions?

4.         Does it matter whether or not psychological egoism is true? What implications does this have for morality (for example, consider utilitarian moral theory) and for the design of social institutions (consider the socialism versus capitalism debate)?

5.         Present the two arguments considered in the text for psychological egoism. Does Rachels think these are sound arguments? Do you think they are?

6.         Do you think psychological egoism is true? Why or why not? Explain what Rachels thinks about psychological egoism.

7.         What is the "strategy of reinterpreting motives?" Why does Rachels think this can't prove the truth of the version of egoism it is used to support?

8.         What is the difference between acting out of self-interest and acting selfishly? What is the difference between acting out of self-interest and acting to achieve pleasure? Give examples of acts which are one but not the other.

9.         Evaluate the following argument for ethical egoism: "Since we each know what is in our own interests better than others do, and since we each are generally better able to provide for our own well-being than we are for the well-being of others, society as a whole would be better off if each person acted in her own self-interest." What does Rachels think about this argument?

10.       Is the following a good argument for ethical egoism? What does Rachels think about this argument? "Since it is in a person's own self-interest to obey the rules of morality (e.g., not to lie, steal, cheat, or murder), ethical egoism justifies our ordinary moral rules and thus provides a solid foundation for morality."

11.       Explain in detail Rachels own argument against ethical egoism. (This is the last one he considers in the chapter comparing egoism to racism/sexism.) Evaluate this argument from your own perspective.

12.       Define discrimination. Is discrimination always wrong? Give an example where it is clearly not wrong. Define unjust discrimination. Define racism. Explain why racism is unjust discrimination. Why might someone think egoism is unjust discrimination? In your own assessment, is it? (Some of this question requires creative thinking on your own.)

13.       If one believed ethical egoism was true, which moral theory ought one to advocate publicly? Ethical egoism? Ethical altruism? Explain.