Study Questions for Midterm Exam

Philosophy 101, Hettinger, Spring 2016

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.

Discussion questions on examples of cultural relativism

American superiority? “Battle Over Patriotism Curriculum”

1.         Are American culture, values and political institutions inherently “superior to other foreign or historic cultures?” When teaching about other cultures. should teachers make it clear that the U.S. is “unquestionably superior” to any other society in all human history?

2.         Should this idea be taught to middle school students? Should teachers be require to teach it? Or is it enough to teach our children to “love and honor our country.”

3.         Do you believe in “American exceptionalism?” Does the “history and mission of the United States” make it superior to other nations?

4.         Does America have a unique mission and duty to see that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth?” (from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address)

5.         What is patriotism? Is it virtue? Why might someone think it is not? Can patriotism ever be taken too far? For example? Is unpatriotic behavior ever permissible? Acceptable? For example?

Cruel and unusual punishments? “Men Stoned to Death for Adultery”

1.         Is stoning someone to death as a method of punishment “barbaric,” that is, savagely cruel and uncivilized?

2.         Consider that ordinary people (and perhaps the victim or relatives of the victim) do the stoning. Is it better for the government to administer the punishment?

3.         Consider that by law the stones required to be used are “large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill immediately.”

4.         Consider that the majority sentenced to stoning to death are women.

5.         Is the death penalty savagely cruel?

6.         Is the death penalty for adultery excessive?

7.         Is solitary confinement for decades, “locking people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day”, savagely cruel? (Note that this practice is common in the U.S.)

8.         Is cutting people’s hands off for theft, savagely cruel?

Female genital cutting? “The Ritual: Disfiguring, Hurtful, Wildly Festive” and “Village by Village, Circumcising a Ritual”

1.         If women want to engage in “female circumcision,” or as the critics call it, female genital mulitation,” should they be allowed?

2.         Do people have the right to do what they want with their own bodies?

3.         Is it appropriate for people outside the cultures where female genital cutting is widespread to go into those cultures and try to stop the practice?

4.         Have women who want to undergo this practice been “brainwashed?” Do they understand what they are doing to themselves? Is this a practice they freely perform on themselves?

5.         Consider the defense of this practice as “preserving a tradition from the onslaught of alien cultures.”

6.         Consider that this practice is one of the few ways women in these male dominated societies can act freely and bond together as women bonding.

7.         Is there a moral difference between cutting the genitals of 4 year old girls and woman?

8.         Consider that genital cutting leads to infections, scarring, and a greater chance of miscarriage and pregnancy related death.

9.         Is the prevalence in America of face lifts and breast enlargements similar to the practice of genital cutting?

10.       Is female genital cutting a sexist practice?

Husbands beating wives? “Do Korean Men Still Beat Their Wives? Definitely”

1.         If wives accept that their husbands may beat them, does that make it permissible?

2.         Is wife battering prevalent in America?

3.         How does South Carolina do in violence against women?

Women wearing a veil in public? “Should there be restrictions on wearing the niqab?

1.         France has barred wearing the niqab and Britain is considering it as is Canada. Should the U.S. bar wearing it?

2.         Is banning the veil, a sign of prejudice against Muslims and based on the idea that there is a sinister spread of Islam around the world that needs to be stopped?

3.         Is wearing of the niqab sexist? Why or why not?

4.         Are many Muslim women forced to wear the niqab.

5.         Is banning the niqab an infringement on religious freedom.

6.         What is tolerance? Is it a virtue? Is it ever wrong to be tolerant? What is intolerance? Is it a vice. Should one ever be intolerant?

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.

Study questions on Rachels 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 and explain simple subjectivism. Explain the objection that Rachels gives to simple subjectivism (it’s about moral disagreement).

3.         Define and explain emotivism. How is it different from simple subjectivism? What are the two versions of emotivism? Explain how emotivism avoids the objection Rachel gives of simple subjectivism.

4.         What is it that people think they are doing when they make moral claims that neither subjectivism nor emotivism can account for? What is error theory and how does it account for this?

5.         What is nihilism? Is it plausible from your own perspective?

6.          How might respect or idolization of science lead to skepticism about values?

7.         Rachels argues that the appeal of subjectivism is based on a mistaken 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?

8.         In what sense are moral truth’s “objective” according to Rachels, even though he does not claim they exist physically in the world.

9.         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?

10.       Do homosexuals choose their sexual inclinations?

11.       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 Julia Serano, “Intrinsic Inclinations: Explaining Gender and Sexual Diversity

1.         What is physical sex? Is it binary? What is intersex?

2.         What is subconscious sex? What is a “disposition?” Explain what it means to “identify as a certain sex.”

3.         What does it mean to say our society is “a binary gendered one?” What does it mean for someone to be “beyond the binary.”

4.          Define each and then explain the difference between transgendered and cisgendered people.

5.         What is “gender expression” (i.e., being feminine or masculine”) and how is it different from both physical sex and subconscious sex?

6.         What is sexual orientation? How is it different from physical sex, subconscious sex, and gender expression?

7.         Explain the difference between social constructivism about gender and gender essentailism and give arguments for each position. Which side does Serano choose, if either?

8.         Explain Serano’s “intrinsic inclination model” for gender, sexual orientation and subconscious sex.

9.         What does it mean to say they are intrinsic? Does she think they are changeable?

10.       Explain Serano’s argument that these gender characteristics are not binary but exist in a range of diversity (like height) and are naturally occurring human variations that should not be seen as errors or mistakes.

11.       Evaluate from your own perspective Serano’s “intrinsic inclination model” for gender, sexual orientation and subconscious sex. Do you think she is correct about this theory? Why or why not? Which aspects make more or less sense to you?

12.       What is “gender oppositional sexism” and why does Serano oppose it.

13.       Why does the existence of transgendered women (men) feel threatening to some women/men? Should it? Does it undermine what it means to be a woman or man? Consider the analogy with how some feel like marriage is threatened by allowing gay marriage.

Study questions on Taylor’s Cosmological Argument

1.          State Taylor’s cosmological argument in detail and as persuasively as you can. Do you think it is a successful argument? Why or why not?

2.         What is the principle of sufficient reason?

3.         Do existence, non-existence, and ceasing to exist all equally require explanation according to Taylor?

4.         Do you think it is possible the world could have always existed?

5.         If the world has always existed, does Taylor believe that means it does not need an explanation? That is, does his argument for God’s existence require that the world did not always exist?

6.         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?

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

8.         What is the difference between creation as a preceding cause bringing something into existence and creation as ontological dependence? Give an example of each.

9.         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?

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

11.       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?

Discussion questions on Topics in Religion

Religion and Science: Lodge, “Faith and Science Can Find Common Ground”

1.         Is there a “religious anti-science movement?”

2.         Why might atheism be over-represented among scientists?

3.         Is the world view of a scientist more conducive to an atheist world view that to a theist one?

4.         Is belief in God compatible with being a scientist? Why might someone think not? Must one “choose between science and faith?”

5.         Can a biologist who believes in evolution be a Christian? Why or why not?

6.         Do you agree with the author that “nothing in the official teaching of Catholicism opposes evolution. Creationism is a recent Protestant invention, based on extreme, literal interpretations of the first three chapters of the Bible’s book of Genesis.”

7.         Explain--and then evaluate from your own perspective--the following anti-environmental religious arguments:

            a.         “Humans, because they are made in God’s image, have a divine right to exploit the natural world.”

            b.         “Human-caused climate change is neither a threat nor real because God created natural resources for humans and it is arrogant to think that we humans can affect God’s plan for Earth.”

            c.         “Environmental protection harms human welfare today and because the world is temporary, long-term protection is unnecessary.”

8.         What are some religious arguments for protecting the environment? Consider this one and what it might require of us: “The importance of loving and tending the gift of creation.”

Religion and Violence: Sacks interview, “'Not In God's Name' Confronts Religious Violence With A 'Different Voice'”

1.         Explain what Sacks means when he says “Dividing the world into saints and sinners, the saved and the damned, the children of God and the children of the devil, is the first step down the road to violence in the name of God.” Why might one think that many religious, including Christianity, do this?

2.         In your opinion, which is the greater cause of violence: Secular ideologies (nationalism, communism, Nazism, etc) or religion?

3.         Are any religions more violent than other religions? Why do some object to the phrase “Islamic terrorist?” Why do some insist it is important to use the phrase? Can you identify recent acts of violence inspired by Christianity? Are there “Christian terrorists?”

4.         Is religion growing or fading in its influence in the world? What does Sacks think?

5.         Can one “acknowledge the validity of another faith within the framework of one’s own faith?” Why might one think this is not possible? Does God want us to be tolerant of those with a different or no) faith?

6.         Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “No one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth and, God has spoken to mankind in many languages through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims.” Why or why not?

7.         Is this a fair criticism of the more radical atheism? “So much of the criticism of religion has come from fundamentalist atheists who are every bit as angry as some of their religious extremist counterparts. I'm not saying they commit acts of violence, but they do regard everyone who disagrees with them as less than fully sane.” What is a “fundamentalist atheist?”

Religion and Politics: “Conservative Christians Are Still Fighting Gay Marriage, But It's An Uphill Battle Against The Courts”

1.         Is requiring a public employee to do those aspects of the job that goes against her or his religious-based conviction a violation of our commitment to freedom of religion?

2.         Is allowing a public employee to not issue gay marriage licences (when the law has deemed them legal) a form of religious based unjustified discrimination and intolerance?

3.         Do the above two questions have different answers (in your opinion) when the job is not a government job, but a job performed by a private employee serving the public (such as a wedding vendor, photographer, baker, or florist refusing to serve gay couples?)

4.         Should a baker be forced to bake a gay wedding cake, Halloween cookies (or erotic pastries) even if this goes against his or her religious beliefs?

5.         Should a baker be allowed to refuse to bake a cake with “God hates Gays” written on it?

6.         Are gay rights a threat to religious liberty?

Religious Pluralism/Exclusivism: “Christian Split: Can Nonbelievers Be Saved?”

1.         If you are a Christian, must you believe that Jesus is the sole way to salvation? Or can you be a Christian and believe that Jews, Muslims and members of other religions can also get into heaven?

2.         From a Christian perspective, can non-believers (atheists or agnostics) be saved?

3.         Do nonbelievers face “hellfire?”

4.         Should members of one religion try to convert those of a different religion (or atheists)? Is not this the right think to do if one cares about other people and one believes one’s religion is the only way to salvation?

5.         Evaluate from your own perspective: ''We do not know the limits of God's grace, and not knowing that, how can we possibly say we know these people are going to heaven, and these are not?”

6.         What do you think of this analogy aimed at explaining religious pluralism? “Consider the image of a cathedral with stained-glass windows. Inside stand groups of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Each group reads the story of its faith in a particular window. All the windows, he wrote, are illuminated by the light of God.”

7.         Would the Christian God leave people out of the kingdom of heaven if those people had never heard of Jesus and thus had no chance to believe?

Atheism: “Woodstock for Atheists”

1.         Are atheists discriminated against?

2.         Are many atheists in the closet? Should they come out? Does it require courage? Does one risk losing friends, family or jobs because of nonbelief?

3.         Would you want an atheist as your friend? Would you let your children play with atheists?

4.         Are atheists immoral people? Are they more likely to be immoral? Are they more likely to steal than a rapist?

5.         Are atheists electable?

6.         Explain the tension in the atheism community between the “firebrands” and the “diplomats.” Consider: “We certainly want to let people know we're your friends, we're your neighbors, we're good people," she says. "But I think it's also to our benefit to let people know that we're to be reckoned with, that we're not going to let ourselves be doormats, and that we're mobilized, we're organized, and when people get us angry, we're going to take action."

7.         Is atheism in America on the rise? Will secularism eventually be the norm?

8.         Is atheism an attack on religion? Is religion an attack on atheism?


Study 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.         According to Russell, the theory of evolution undermines the design argument for God’s existence. What is the design argument and how does evolution undermine it?

3.         Identify and explain the two “moral arguments” for God’s existence. What are Russell’s objections to them?

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

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

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

7.         According to Russell, what are some of the motivations that get people to be religious (besides fear of eternal damnation)? Do you think he is right? Why or why not?

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

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

10.       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?

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

12.       What does Russell propose as an alternative to belief in God as a guide to human life? Does alternative seem plausible to you?

Study 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?

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

5.         Does the free will defense address all kinds of evils(=bads) in the world? Why or why not? Consider animal suffering. Are animals part of the “higher harmony?’

6.         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?

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

8.         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?

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

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

11.       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? Would you consent to the torture as a way to achieve “higher harmony” or “the infinite future good.”

12.       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.

Study questions on Rachels, Ch 4: Does Morality Depend on Religion?

1.         Why might one think that if morality is to be objective (explain what that means) one would need a God to make this so? Contrast this with the way Rachel accounts for the objectivity of morality.

2.         Explain the difference between saying that right conduct is right because God commands it and saying God commands right conduct because it is right. Which makes more sense to you?

3.         Explain the divine command theory of morality. Now explain Rachel’s three objections to it. Do you think these objections are successful?

4.         If God does not exist, does that mean nothing is right or wrong, good or bad? Consider child abuse in such a world.

5.         If God commands conduct because it is right, why does Rachels think this means that morality is not dependent on religion?

6.         Describe the Natural Law Theory of the relationship between religion and morality. What are some of the problems with this theory that Rachels identifies? Do you agree they are problems?

7.         Why does Rachels think Natural Law Theory (as it has been developed) is “stunningly anthropocentric?” Do you agree?

8.         Using examples explain the difference between is and ought, facts and values. If something is the case, does it follow that it ought to be the case?

9.         Discuss some of the problems that Rachels identifies with using religion (one's church or a holy book) to decide particular moral issues.

Questions on 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?)

4.         If both psychological and ethical egoism are true, what follows about the rightness or wrongness of our actions?

5.         Does it matter whether or not psychological egoism is true? What implications does this have for morality (which tells us that sometimes we should help others) and for the design of social institutions (consider the socialism versus capitalism debate)?

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

7.         What is the “strategy of re-interpreting motives” and how does psychological egoism use this strategy? Do you think it successful?

8.         Do you think psychological egoism is true? Why or why not?

9.         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.

10.       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? Assume this argument is sound (its premises are true and it’s conclusion follows from the premises and hence the conclusion is true); why does Rachels argue that ethical egoism can’t embrace this argument?

11.       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."

12.       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.

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

Study questions on Rachels, Ch 6: Social Contract Theory

1.         What is authority? Why does (state) authority need to be justified?

2.         Distinguish between, explain, and give examples of these 4 grounds/rationales for making laws: Harm, paternalism, moralism and offense principles.

3.         Explain the origin of the state and government according to the social contract theory. How does the theory justify state authority?

4.         What is a “state of nature?” Explain how the idea of a “state of nature” fits into this justification for state/political authority?

5.         What is the social contract theory of morality? Define and explain it.

6.         Explain the role of agreement/consent, self-interest, mutual benefit, and reciprocity is this account of the origin and justification for the state and for morality.

7.         According to the social contract theory of morality, is it morally wrong to murder another human being in a state of nature? Explain why or why not.

8.         How could someone who held to the social contract theory of morality argue that the anti-drug and anti-sex laws are illegitimate (an hence we have no obligation to obey them)?

9.         Explain how the social contract theory of morality could morally justify the civil disobedience on the part of African Americans in this country in the 1960's.

10.       Why might a proponent of the social contract theory worry about the objection that the social contract is a fiction? How might such a proponent respond to this objection?

11.       What is the difference between an implicit and explicit consent?

12.       Explain why Rachels thinks the social contract theory has problems accounting for our obligations to animals and future generations. (Hint: consider the role of reciprocity in the theory and the notion of mutual benefit.)