Jamieson, Ch 4, Normative Ethics


1.      Moral theory: About which sorts of things are good and which acts are right and relation between the two (good and right)


2.      Three types of moral theories

                   i.       John dumps oil in storm drain ex.

         b.      Consequentialist

                   i.       Consequences of John’s action, damage it will cause, alternatives open to John

         c.      Virtue ethics

                   i.       Wonders about John’s character; what sort of a person would act this way?

         d.      Kantian/Deontology

                   i.       Understand John’s act (and motive). What did he think he was doing and why



4.      Consequentialism

         a.      Acts morally right/wrong/indifferent solely in virtue of consequences

         b.      Right acts are those that produce good consequences

                   i.       Right defined in terms of producing the good


         c.      All the consequences (not just those that affect me)

                   i.       Act itself (e.g., lying) not a consequence

         d.      Actual or probable/foreseeable/intended consequence?

                   i.       Consequentialists disagree about which


5.      Three elements of consequentialism

         a.      (1) What property of the consequences make acts right/wrong?

                   i.       Pleasure, excellence achieved, beauty, knowledge

         b.      (2) To what extent must those properties obtain?

                   i.       Maintaining, increasing or maximizing consequentialism

         c.      (3) At what level are acts/consequences evaluated?

                   i.       Act, rule, motive


6.      Hedonistic act utilitarianism: Acts right/wrong if the produce/fail to produce maximum pleasure

                   i.       A specific version of consequentialism

         b.      Hedonism: Pleasure is the sole good

                   i.       Answers (1) above

                            (1)    Alternatives to pleasure: happiness, desire satisfaction, ideals

         c.      Utilitarianism: Right acts must produce the maximum about of value

                   i.       Answers (2) above

                            (1)    Increasing consequentialism an alternative

         d.      Act: Individual acts are evaluated

                   i.       Answers (3) above

                            (1)    Acts as opposed to motives, practices or rules


7.      Perfectionist act utilitarianism--modifies (1)

         a.      Perfectionism (good consequences are human perfections, e.g, spiritually evolved, great guitar player...)

         b.      Right acts those produce perfections even if produces more suffering


8.      Hedonistic act minimalism–modifies (2)

         a.      Move away from maximization principle

         b.      Any act that produces any pleasure is right

                   i.       Either right: work at homeless shelter or play your favorite record


9.      Hedonistic lifetime utilitarianism–modifies (3)

         a.      Change level at which acts evaluated

         b.      Acts right if they are part of a life which produces more pleasure than any other life agent could have led


10.    Kelly example: Night of passion, self-improvement workshop, crime spree?



12.    Demandingness objection

         a.      Consequentialism is too demanding to be plausible as it makes us responsible for all the consequences of our acts, however indirect and so requires too much of us.

         b.      Some versions of consequentialism avoid this

                   i.       Intended, not actual consequentialism

                   ii.      Minimal consequentialism

13.    Special relations objection

         a.      Consequentialism can give no account for “role morality”

         b.      It’s committed to impartiality (“each to count for one, none for more than one”), and ignores morally praiseworthy partiality

         c.      But much of morality involves duties that are partial (counting some more than others): Parents duties toward children that don’t have toward others

         d.      Counterexample to utilitarianism: Save a researcher who is helping to cure cancer or your mother?

14.    Justice and rights objection

         a.      Sometimes consequentialism committed to violating people’s rights and/or treating them unjustly (in terms of distributive justice)

         b.      Rights violation counter example to utilitarianism

                   i.       McCloskey’s framing innocent black man for rape to stop race riot (best consequence)

                   ii.      Takings example: Taking property w/o compensation violates a persons property rights but may have the best overall social consequences

         c.      Unjust distribution counter-example to utilitarianism

                   i.       If one person would enjoy the goods much more than another, rather than equally dividing a pie (or whatever), give it all to the one who gets most enjoyment out of it–best consequence involves extreme inequality

                   ii.      Summer’s argument that best to place toxic wastes to poor neighborhoods/countries is an example


15.    Consequentialism’s replies

         a.      Only problem for certain type of consequentialism: Utilitarianism

         b.      Bite the bullet response: There is no place for special relationships, police should frame the black man, and one should not be concerned with distribution

                   i.       Rather than assume out intuitions about specific cases are right (and thereby reject the theory), we need to change out beliefs about the specific cases

         c.      Utilitarianism does not sanction these judgments:

                   i.       Best world one in which parents take care of children (special obligations)

                   ii.      Police framing innocent people whenever thought best would lead to horrible results in the long term, much worse than bad results from police respecting rights of innocent man

                   iii.     People are happier if resources are distributed in a broadly egalitarian way


16.    Indirect consequentialism

         a.      Consequentialism as a theory of justification vs. consequentialism as a theory of motivation

                   i.       Don’t want people to be motivated by consequentialism, as trying to live consequentialism would have worse results than if people conform to widely shared moral rules (don’t frame innocent people, take care of your own kids first.....)

         b.      Rule and motive consequentialisms

                   i.       Act on those rules which if generally accepted would produce best consequences

                   ii.      Act right if issues from set of motives that produce best consequences



18.    Focus on character

         a.      About John pouring oil down drain, virtue theorists asks “what sort of a person would do such a thing?”

         b.      A consequentialist would say that a person’s character can be determined by what kind of consequences a person brings about

19.    Virtue ethics says that character and virtue are at center of morality

         a.      Not derived from consequences

         b.      Everything is derived from character/virtue (morality of the act and the value of the consequences)

20.    Having a virtue

         a.      Disposition to act in certain ways

         b.      Having appropriate emotions/attitudes

         c.      Acting for the right reasons

         d.      Good at identifying cases where the virtue is required


21.    Examples of virtues: Moderation, Courage, Modesty/Humility

22.    Examples of vices: Arrogance, Greed, Selfishness, Insensitivity


23.    Living virtuously benefits the agent through a connection to human flourishing


24.    Rosalind Hursthouse’s virtue definition of right acts

         a.      “An act is right iff it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically do in the circumstances”


25.    Problems for a virtue definition of right action:


26.    Virtuous person may do what is wrong precisely because she is virtuous

         a.      Example: To stop Adolph from killing millions of people on other side of world, we must blow up building he’s in which also contains 100s of innocent people. We hope the secret agent sent to stop Adolph not virtuous person but someone who is callous enough to kill hundreds of innocent people in order to kill the guilty threat; virtuous person would never do such a thing, even in extreme circumstances

         b.      Virtue ethicist reply: If the virtuous person would not do this, then that shows it is not right to do

                   i.       Rejects the consequentialist assumptions here

         c.      Jamieson “This is difficult to swallow”


27.    Virtue ethics does not provide a good reason for thinking that what virtuous person does is right

         a.      According to virtue ethics: Right actions should be understood in terms of virtuous agents (not other way)

         b.      Why wrong to kill innocent people?

         c.      Because virtuous person would not do this?

         d.      But why not?

         e.      Two replies

                   i.       Just because

                   ii.      Note: Can’t say virtuous person not do this because it is wrong, for wrong is defined by what a virtuous person would not do (and this would make the account circular)

                   iii.     Because of some account of human flourishing: People who kill innocent people fair to flourish or benefit themselves in some way

         f.       Critique: But some tyrants lived long and happy lives (Mao)

         g.      Critique: Strange to say that wrongness of action depends on some idea of what benefits the agent and has noting to do with the act itself or its consequences

                   i.       Wrong to kill innocent people because of what it does to the victims (and not because of what it will do to the agents prospect of flourishing)


28.    Virtue ethics helps little in actual decision making, especially in difficult cases

         a.      Not help to be told to “act as the virtuous person would act”

29.    VE does not help where virtues seem to conflict

         a.      Innocent lie: Person who is at a dance looks ridiculous ask you how he looks

                   i.       Lying expresses the virtue of compassion

                   ii.      Not lying expresses the virtue of truth-telling, honesty


30.    Virtue ethics is useful for environmental ethics but not enough

         a.      Much env. destruction can be seen as arising from vices (greed and arrogance, lack of humility)

         b.      Rainforest homeowner who cuts down all the trees and puts up security cameras

                   i.       Not so much violated rights or produced bad consequences, but what kind of a person would do this?

         c.      But many env problems not result of vicious character, but of ordinary, humdrum activities that collectively create large problems

                   i.       Is there a vice involved in driving your car 3 blocks to the grocery store?

                   ii.      Buying a fuel inefficient car?

                   iii.     Leaving your electronics plugged in?

         d.      Hursthouse suggests there is: “Greedy and self-indulgent to want to enjoy certain ordinary things”



32.    Focuses on the act itself (and purity of motivation), rather than the consequences or the character of the agent

33.    Morality is about how should rational agents relate to each other?

34.    Rationality makes categorical (rather than hypothetical) demands on us simply as rational beings

         a.      Hypothetical imperatives: If you want X (go med school, get good coffee), then you should do Y (take chemistry, go to Joe’s)

                   i.       Contingent on our desires

         b.      Categorical imperatives: Do not depend on our desires and apply to all of us

                   i.       Do Y (period)

35.    Categorical imperative

         a.      Formulation one: Act only on those maxims that can be willed to be universal law

                   i.       E.g., Promise breaking and lying can’t be universal laws

                   ii.      This depends on how narrow or wide we specify the maxims on which we are acting

         b.      Second formulation: Act so that you treat humanity always as an end and never as a means only

36.    Kant thought that animals and nature can be treated as mere means because they are mere things (so can’t be wronged)

         a.      They are not rational as not self-conscious (to be rational must understand the categorical imperative)

         b.      Our obligations regarding them are indirect and are really duties to other people or ourselves


37.    Koorsgaard’s Kantian position that extends value to nature

         a.      Rational agents are the source of value, they do not exhaust the content of value

                   i.       They imbue value in things by valuing them

         b.      We are rationally required to value and legislate protection for nonhuman nature

                   i.       We value our own animal nature (eating, drinking, playing) and so we need to value this in other animals

                   ii.      We matter to ourselves and if this is a reason we are valuable, then so to are other creatures that matter to themselves

                   iii.     And if we value what is good for us, we also should value what is good for other organisms (like plants, even if they don’t matter to themselves)