Study Questions for Final Exam

Introduction to Philosophy, Spring 2011

Study questions on Rachels, Ch 6: Social Contract Theory

1. Explain the origin of the state and government according to the social contract theory. How does the theory justify state authority? Why does state authority need to be justified? What is authority?

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

3. 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?

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

5. How could someone who held to the social contract theory of morality argue that they have no moral obligation to obey the anti-drug and anti-sex laws?

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

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. Explain why Rachels thinks the social contract theory has problems accounting for our obligations to animals, infants, severely retarded people, and future generations. (Hint: consider the role of reciprocity in the theory.)

 Questions on Feinberg’s “Liberty Limiting Principles” (from “Hard Cases for the Harm Principle”)

1. What are the four liberty limiting principles (or reasons for making laws) that Feinberg discusses? Why are they called "liberty limiting principles"?

2. Which of the liberty limiting principles would a proponent of the social contract theory accept and why?

3. What is the harm principle? What is it meant to justify?

4. Give the best example you can think of a harmless immorality, and explain why it is immoral and show how it is harmless.

5. Define Legal Moralism. Give examples of laws which you think are most plausibly justified by legal moralism and explain why. Give examples of "morals laws" which you think are clearly unjustified and explain why. Do you think legal moralism is a justifiable liberty-limiting principle? Why or why not? What are some of the arguments for it? Against it? What does Feinberg think about this? What is the "tyranny of the majority?"

6. What is the difference between offense and harm? Give examples.

7. Explain what the offense principle is. Give examples of laws which you think are most plausibly justified by the offense principle and explain why. Give examples of laws aimed at preventing offensive behavior which you think are clearly unjustified and explain why. Do you think the offense principle is a justifiable liberty-limiting principle? Why or why not? What are the arguments for it? Against it?

8. Explain what constraints Feinberg places on the offense principle in order for him to accept it.

9. Define Legal Paternalism. Give examples of laws which you think are most plausibly justified by legal paternalism, and explain why. Give examples of laws which you think are clearly unjustifiably paternalistic and explain why. Do you think legal paternalism is a justifiable liberty-limiting principle? Why or why not? What are the arguments for and against it?

10. Explain what Feinberg has in mind when he defends "weak paternalism?"

Study questions Rachels, Ch 7, Utilitarianism

1. Define utilitarianism and describe in detail how a utilitarian would go about deciding whether or not an act is morally right. In what sense is utilitarianism a consequentialist moral theory? What is the difference between utilitarianism and ethical egoism?

2. If act A made 10 beings happy and act B made 50 beings happy would a utilitarian be committed to saying act B is better than act A? Why or why not? (Consider degrees of happiness)

3. If act A made people happier overall than did act B, would a utilitarian be committed to saying act A is better than act B? Why or why not? (Consider affects on all sentient beings)

4. If act A made all beings overall happier than did act B, would a utilitarian be committed to saying act A is the morally right act? Why or why not? (Consider alternatives that produces even more happiness)

5. What is the traditional “anthropocentric” view of moral standing/intrinsic value of nonhumans? Is cruelty to animals wrong on this view? Why or why not? Explain why a consistent utilitarian must include the pleasure/pain of animals in deciding what it is right to do?

Study Questions Ch 8, Debate over Utilitarianism

1. What are the three central features of utilitarianism that Rachels identifies (Ch 8)?

2. Explain the difference between intrinsic (valued for its own sake) and instrumental value (valued as a means to something else).

3. What is hedonism? Does Rachels agree or disagree with hedonism? Why? In other words, does he think happiness is the only thing that matters intrinsically (i.e., is good in itself)? Explain how Rachels two examples count against hedonism (pianist with damaged hands and friend ridiculing you behind your back).

4. Explain why a critic of utilitarianism thinks it can't account for the moral concepts of rights and justice. How do these concepts purportedly show that consequentialism (only the consequences of actions matter in determining their rightness) is false. Use examples to explain this criticism of utilitarianism. How might a utilitarian respond to this criticism?

5. Explain and give an example of a "backward looking" moral considerations? What is the relationship between utilitarianism and backward looking moral considerations?

6. Explain the reasons for why one might think utilitarianism is too demanding a moral theory. How does the notion of strict impartiality fit into this criticism?

7. Explain the reasons why some think utilitarianism undermines personal relationships. Do you agree?

8. What is rule utilitarianism (as opposed to act utilitarianism)?

9. How do utilitarians respond to the objection that their views of morality have consequences that violate common sense.

Rachels, Ch 9: Are There Absolute Moral Rules? And Kant’s Ethics

1. What is the difference between a consequentialist moral theory and a non-consequentialist moral theory? Which can and which cannot support absolute moral rules and why? Explain and give an example of an absolute moral rule.

2. What is the difference between an hypothetical and a categorical imperative?

3. What does Kant mean when he says that moral rules must be universalizable? Give an example of a rule of action which Kant believes is not universalizable and explain why it is not (hint: is it self-defeating and/or not reversible?)

4. Give an example where someone fails to consistently apply a moral reason. 

Ch 10, Questions on Kant and Respect for Persons

1. Why does Kant think humans are special? And in what way are they special, according to Kant? Do you agree with him?

2. What does Kant mean when he says that morality requires us to treat humanity as an end and never as a mere means? Give examples of treating humanity as a mere means and then as an end in itself.

Rachels, Ch 10, Section on Retributivist and Utilitarian Justifications for Punishment

1. Explain the retributivist and the utilitarian view of punishment. What are their views about punishment considered in itself (apart from any consequences)? (Good? Bad? Why?) What rationales would each give for punishment and what sorts of punishment would each accept? (Consider: Deterrence, rehabilitation of wrong doer, and giving a criminal what she deserves.) Explain the arguments each would use against the other's views. In your own judgment, whose views are better? Why?

2. What are the two principles of retributivist punishment and explain how utilitarian violates each.

3. Explain why retributivists think that punishment shows respect for the person punished.

Tom Nagel, The Mind-Body Problem

1. Explain what is at issue in the “mind-body problem.” Explain and compare how physicalism and the dualism understand mental states and people.

2. Explain Nagel’s main argument for accepting dualism. Why does he think the experience of the taste of chocolate is not something physical?

3. What is one consideration (reason) in support of physicalism

4. Explain the argument for dualism that claims that mental states do not have locations.

5. Explain why some think dualism has trouble explaining causation between mental and physical states.

Study questions, Dan Dennett, Where Am I?

1. Describe Dennett’s story where his body and brain and himself all get separated.

2. How does this story cause trouble for physicalism’s view of the person (that you are identical with your brain).

3. Explain how brain transplants undermine the idea that you are wherever your body is.

4. How does Dennett use the idea of putting a convicted criminal’s brain in prison (and letting his body go free) to show that you are not identical with your brain

Tom Nagel, Free Will

1. Explain the similarities and differences between the Free Will, Determinism, and Compatibilism positions. What are each of their views on whether or not a person (1) has free will (2) is determined, and (3) could have done otherwise that what she did?

2. What position on moral responsibility does each position take? Why might determinism undermine moral responsibility? In what sense can a determinist believe we should punish people? Why does the compatibilist think moral responsibility is not undermined by determinism?

3. Does compatibilism accept the idea that we are determined? What kind of cause of our action does the compatibilist think is compatible with our free will and what kind not?

4. Why might someone argue that free will requires determinism, rather than indeterminism?

Rachels Ch 11, Feminism and the Ethics of Care

1. Define feminism as we did in class and the notes

2. What is the difference between gender personality (feminine/masculine) and sex (female/male). Should each sex take on a single gender? What does “androgynous” mean? Is this a good ideal? Why or why not?

3. Do you think that there are important psychological differences between the men and women? Do these differences justify differences in sex roles, that is, differences in what kind of jobs and duties each sex has (or is encouraged to have)?

4. Do feminists believe that men and women think differently? Which feminists?

5. Describe some of the differences between feminist ethics (“care ethics”) and the traditional male ethics of justice/principle? (Use the” feminist ethics chart” to study. You might also use the Jake/Amy drug stealing story.)

6. What does Rachel’s suggest that feminist ethics (based on caring and preserving personal relations) would say about our moral obligations to people in the developing world and to farm animals (in contrast to pets).

J.S. Mill, The Subjection of Women

1. What is Mill’s response to the argument that women voluntarily accept the subordinate role in their relations with men?

2. In what way does Mill think women are better or worse off than slaves?

3. What is Mill’s response to the argument for the view that women are subordinate to men by nature based on the fact that most women are subordinate to men in actual relationships that we see around us.

4. How does Mill think men's ideas about sexually attractive women contribute to the subordination of women?

5. What does Mill think about the argument that women are not suited for certain occupations because on average, women can’t do the job as well as men can?

6. Why does Mill think the subordination of women is a great loss to society? Why does he think women’s equality is important for other moral relationships?

Rachels, Ch 12: The Ethics of Virtue

1. Explain how virtue ethics is different from an ethics of duty or right action. What does virtue ethics focus on that is different from traditional ethics (e.g., utilitarianism and Kantian non-consequentialism)?

2. Define what a virtue is and give examples of virtues (and opposing vices).

3. Using courage as an example, explain what Aristotle means when he says virtue is a mean between two extremes which are vices?

4. Does Rachels think the virtues are the same for everyone or does he think virtues are culturally relative? Give examples.

5. Using the example of visiting a friend in the hospital, explain why Rachels thinks that virtue ethics handles moral motivation better than does either utilitarian ethics or Kant’s universalizability ethics.

6. How will a defender of virtue ethics answer the question about how we should act? In other word, for virtue ethics right action is__________________?

7. What is “radical virtue ethics” and why does Rachels object to it?

Philip Cafaro, “Gluttony, Arrogance, Greed and Apathy: An Exploration of Environmental Vice”

1. What are the two reasons Cafaro gives to explain why when it comes to the environment our actions are so out of sync with our professed values.

2. What is Cafaro’s “main claim” about why we make environmentally irresponsible choices?

3. Give Cafaro’s definition of a vice and explain how it is related to harm. Who is harmed by vice?

4. What is the connection between vice and human flourishing? Can people be vicious and flourish? Explain how what counts as a vice depends on one’s conception of flourishing (according to Cafaro).

5. Do you agree with environmental virtue ethics that human flourishing depends on nature’s flourishing?

6. Choose one of Cafaro’s four vices and explain what it involves, who it harms, and why it is bad for the people who have the vice and bad for the environment.

7. Are many ordinary everyday activities (like driving 4 blocks to buy milk) examples of environmental vices of self-indulgence and greed?

Rachels, Ch 13: What Would A Satisfactory Moral Theory Be Like?

1.         Describe and explain Rachels' own moral theory (what he calls "morality without hubris"). How does it conceive of right action? In what way is it utilitarian? In what way is it Kantian? In what way does it incorporate virtue ethics? What sort of hubris does he reject?

2.         Explain the notion of impartiality and some problems with impartiality as an ethical ideal. Does Rachels conception of right action insist on strict impartiality in all cases? For what reasons does Rachels allow a departure from strict impartiality?

3.         When Rachels argues that right action impartially promotes everyone’s interests, what positions and considerations is he ruling out? Consider race, sex, species, location, time, and preference for oneself.

4.         Why is it important to treat people as they deserve to be treated? Is desert forward or backward looking? What facts about a person are relevant in determining what she deserves? Consider: her native intelligence, her fortunate social circumstances, and her own past behavior.

5.         How does treating people as they deserve to be treated increase the control they have over their lives?

6.         What does Rachels think about the practice of rewarding people because of the superior natural endowments they possess or because they were born into a wealthy and well-educated family? Does he think people deserve better treatment because of this? Why or why not? What do you think?