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Moral Philosophy and Moral Reasoning The Point of Moral Philosophy developing a Moral outlook 2 traditions of moral philosophy Moral Reasoning Fo

Read the book chapter 6 and write about 250 words. The specific questions are in the screenshot, apa 7 format

Jonathan Wolff Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

n W. W. NOrtON & COm paNy

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moral philosophy

an introduction too

W. W. Norton & Company has been independent since its founding in 1923, when william warder Norton and Mary d. Herter Norton first published lectures delivered at the people’s Institute, the adult education division of New  york City’s Cooper Union. The firm soon expanded its program beyond the Institute, publishing books by cele- brated academics from america and abroad. By midcentury, the two major pillars of Norton’s publishing program— trade books and college texts— were firmly established. In the 1950s, the Norton family transferred control of the company to its employees, and today— with a staff of four hundred and a comparable number of trade, college, and professional titles published each year— W. W. Norton & Company stands as the largest and oldest publishing house owned wholly by its employees.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Wolff, Jonathan, author. Title: An introduction to moral philosophy / Jonathan Wolff, Blavatnik School  of Government, University of Oxford. Description: First edition. | New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 2017. |  Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017035330 | ISBN 9780393923599 (pbk.) Subjects:  LCSH: Ethics. Classification: LCC BJ1025 .W65 2017 | DDC 170—dc23 LC record available at

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To my nephews, Dan and Tom

Preface xiii

1 Moral Philosophy and Moral Reasoning 1 2 Cultural Relativism 21 3 Skepticism and Subjectivism 40 4 Free Will and Moral Responsibility 58 5 Religion and Natural Law 71 6 Egoism 88 7 The Social Contract 108 8 Utilitarianism: Bentham and Mill 125 9 Challenges for Utilitarianism 144 10 Deontology: Kant 163 11 Challenges for Kantian Ethics 182 12 Virtue Ethics: Aristotle 200 13 Challenges for Virtue Ethics 219 14 The Ethics of Gender and Race 232 15 Developing a Moral Outlook 258

Key Thinkers K- 1 Glossary G- 1 Index I- 1

brief contents

Preface xiii About the Author xvi

ch a pter 1 Moral Philosophy and Moral Reasoning 1 The Point of Moral Philosophy 1 developing a Moral outlook 2 traditions of moral philosophy 3

The Nature of Moral Inquiry 4 meta- Ethics 5 Normative Ethics 5 applied Ethics 6

Moral Reasoning 7 Formal Logic: Validity, Soundness, equivocation, Circularity 8 analogy, Induction, argument to the Best Explanation 11 thought Experiments and moral Intuitions 13 Special moral arguments 16 The Plan of This Book 17 Chapter Review 18 Summary 18 • discussion Questions 19 • key Terms 19 key Thinkers 19 • Further reading 20



vi ■ Contents

ch a pter 2 Cultural Relativism 21 The Variety of Moral Practices 21 Objectivism or Cultural Relativism? 23 Relativism and Pseudo- Relativism 26 problems for relativism 31

Modest Relativism 32 Genital Cutting and Cultural relativism 34

Chapter Review 37 Summary 37 • discussion Questions 38 • key Terms 38 key Thinkers 38 • Further reading 39

ch a pter 3 Skepticism and Subjectivism 40 Moral Nihilism 40 Morality and Custom 42 Morality as a device to Curb the Strong 43

Individual Subjectivism 44 Expressivism 46

Objective Moral Concepts 49 Ethics, Language, Metaphysics, and Epistemology 51 The Argument From Queerness 52

Responding to Nihilism, Subjectivism, and Error Theory 54 Chapter Review 55 Summary 55 • discussion Questions 56 • key Terms 56 key Thinkers 56 • Further reading 57

ch a pter 4 Free Will and Moral Responsibility 58 Free Will 58 Intuitive Belief in Free Will 59 Sociological determinism 61 Psychological and Physical determinism 61

Determinism and Moral Responsibility 63

Contents ■ vii

Compatibilism 64 Law and determinism 67

Chapter Review 68 Summary 68 • discussion Questions 69 • key Terms 69 key Thinkers 69 • Further reading 69

ch a pter 5 Religion and Natural Law 71 Religion as a Basis for Morality 71 Divine Command and the Euthyphro Dilemma 73 responding to the dilemma 75 The Logic of the dilemma 76

Religion and Natural Law 77 Natural Law and reason 78 The Fact/Value distinction 81 Natural Law and Conscience 83

Chapter Review 84 Summary 84 • discussion Questions 85 • key Terms 85 key Thinkers 85 • Further reading 86

ch a pter 6 Egoism 88 Why Be Moral? 88 Psychological Egoism 89 the Evidence for psychological Egoism 91 Can psychological Egoism Be rejected? 95

Self- Interest and Evolution 96 Selfish Genes and kin Altruism 96 the mountain people 98

Ethical Egoism 100 Private Vices, Public Virtues 101 pure Ethical Egoism 102

Chapter Review 105 Summary 105 • discussion Questions 105 • key Terms 105 key Thinkers 105 • Further reading 106

ch a pter 7 The Social Contract 108 Morality as a Compromise Agreement 108 The Social Contract 111 The Prisoner’s dilemma 112 Cooperation and public Goods 114

Developing the Contract Argument 116 Beyond rules and regulations 118 Social Contract theory in practice 119 Chapter Review 121 Summary 121 • discussion Questions 122 • key Terms 122 key Thinkers 123 • Further reading 123

ch a pter 8 Utilitarianism: Bentham and Mill 125 The Context of Bentham’s Moral Philosophy 125 Elimination of asceticism 128 Elimination of the principle of Sympathy and antipathy 129

Clarifying Utilitarianism 130 Bentham’s theory of the Good 131 Measuring Happiness 131

Utilitarianism and Equality for Women 134 the Subjection of Women 135

Justifying Utilitarianism 136 mill’s “proof” 138 Aggregating Happiness 141

Chapter Review 142 Summary 142 • discussion Questions 142 • key Terms 142 key Thinkers 142 • Further reading 143

ch a pter 9 Challenges for Utilitarianism 144 Is Happiness the Sole Ultimate Good? 144 the Narrowness Objection 144 the agency Objection 146

viii ■ Contents

the Evil pleasures Objection 147 The Quality objection 147 the Irrelevance Objection 149 Maximizing Happiness 150 Counterintuitive Consequences 151

Modifying Utilitarianism 153 act and rule Utilitarianism 153 Two- Level Utilitarianism 155 The Problem of Contingency: Gender and Race 157 Chapter Review 159 Summary 159 • discussion Questions 160 • key Terms 160 key Thinkers 160 • Further reading 161

ch a pter 10 Deontology: Kant 163 The Supreme Moral Principle 163 Summary of Kant’s Ethics 164 The Good Will 166 Sympathy 168

The Categorical Imperative 169 Hypothetical and Categorical Imperatives 170 the maxim of an action 171

Kant’s Examples 173 Suicide 175 False Promising, Neglecting Your Talents, and Failing to Help 177

Chapter Review 179 Summary 179 • discussion Questions 180 • key Terms 180 key Thinkers 180 • Further reading 180

ch a pter 11 Challenges for Kantian Ethics 182 Formulations of the Supreme Principle of Morality 182 the Formula of the Kingdom of Ends 183 The Formula of Humanity 183 Autonomy and Heteronomy 186

Contents ■ ix

Using Kant’s Theory 188 once More: kant on Lying 189 kantian ethics in real Life 190

Freedom and Morality 193 Kant and Christianity 194 Moral Principles, Race, and Gender 195 Chapter Review 197 Summary 197 • discussion Questions 198 • key Terms 198 key Thinkers 198 • Further reading 198

ch a pter 12 Virtue Ethics: Aristotle 200 Aristotle’s Moral Methodology 200 The Good Life 202 Acquiring Virtue 205 Is Virtue Natural? 206 Can Virtue Be Learned from a Book? 206 Habituation 207

Virtue, Vice, and the Golden Mean 209 The Virtues 210 the Golden mean 212

Virtue Theory and the Mean 214 Chapter Review 216 Summary 216 • discussion Questions 217 • key Terms 217 key Thinkers 217 • Further reading 217

ch a pter 13 Challenges for Virtue Ethics 219 Criticisms of Virtue Ethics 219 Virtue Theory and Abortion 221 Do You Have a Character? 223 Aristotle on Gender and Race 226 Chapter Review 229 Summary 229 • discussion Questions 230 • key Terms 230 key Thinkers 230 • Further reading 230

x ■ Contents

ch a pter 14 The Ethics of Gender and Race 232 Gender and Race: A Review 232 The Ethics of Care 233 Jake and amy 234

Power, Privilege, Diversity 239 the Birdcage 242 Feminism and Science 244 morality and power 246 Critique of Moral Philosophy 247 Beyond the Binary divide 248

The Ethics of Race 250 Taking Action 252 Chapter Review 253 Summary 253 • key Terms 254 key Thinkers 254 • Further reading 256

ch a pter 15 Developing a Moral Outlook 258 Moral Theories 258 Learning from Moral Philosophy 259

Key Thinkers K-1 Glossary G-1 Index I-1

Contents ■ xi


O ne of the key ideas when reflecting on a moral problem is to con- sider how things look from the other person’s point of view. This, in my opinion, is just as important in writing about morality as it is for morality itself. In all my writing, including this book, I have aimed to write what I would have wanted to read myself at the relevant stage of my life; in this case, at the start of my study of moral philosophy. I have

been led by the dictum of the great moral philosopher Immanuel Kant in his text “What is Enlightenment?” To be enlightened is to think for yourself, rather than taking on other people’s ideas without reflecting for yourself how they might be justified.

This book is aimed at helping those new to the subject to think for them- selves about moral philosophy. I want to help you come to a better under- standing of how you should think, feel, and act, if you are to do so with moral confidence. I have not attempted to tell you what to think, but rather to help you think independently about moral questions— not only about the issues in this book, but also about other questions that may occur in your life and in your thought. In other words, although saying this could give rise to false expectations, the point of this book is to help set you out on the path toward moral enlightenment (at least in Kant’s sense of the term enlight- enment). It is not, however, a matter of knowing the answers, but rather of having the equipment to think hard about the questions.

The main focus of this book is theoretical or conceptual. It is aimed at introducing the reader to the main debates, theories, and concepts that currently structure moral philosophy both as a subject studied in the university and applied to real life. In doing so I often use examples, but there is not enough space in just one book to examine practical ques- tions in full depth. Accordingly, this book is accompanied by another


one, called Readings in Moral Philosophy, that provides selections from many of the texts discussed here, as well as readings on many critical debates in applied ethics. Together these books provide a comprehensive introduction to moral philosophy, although each one can also be used independently of the other.

One goal of this book is to ref lect moral philosophy in its growing diver- sity of approaches and subject matter. Thus it includes illustrations from a wide array of other disciplines that students might be studying, such as psy- chology, anthropology, literature, biological sciences, and so on. In addition, students will find an expansive and contemporary discussion of gender and race included across much of the text. In particular, I have tried to avoid the common trap of restricting feminist ethics to the ethics of care.

Each chapter ends with a summary, from three to five discussion questions, separate lists of key terms and thinkers, and a further reading section. At the end of this book is a glossary of key terms and a list of key thinkers found in the book. The book is also supported by a full test bank and a coursepack of assignable quizzes and discussion prompts that loads into most learning management systems. Access these resources at digital

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS In writing this book I have acquired many debts. I think the first person to suggest that I write this book for  W.  W.  Norton was Roby Harrington. Ken Barton broke down my resistance, and then Peter Simon was the first Norton editor I worked with until Ken returned to take over that role. I have worked with Ken most on this book, but Michael Moss has also played an important role, as have Diane Cipollone, Shannon Jilek, Christianne Thil- len, Marian Johnson, Quynh Do, Gerra Goff, Benjamin Reynolds, Ashley Horna, Erica Wnek, Lissi Sigillo, and other colleagues in bringing it safely to print and beyond. I am exceptionally grateful to all of these people for their encouragement and firm advice at many points.

I have received an abundance of comments at many stages. The response that led to the most significant rethinking was from my former PhD student, the moral and political philosopher Rajeev Sehgal, who generously wrote up comments on two successive drafts of the book, each time expressing a rich variety of forms of dissatisfaction with what I had written. I learned from all these suggestions, and adopted many of them, though I fear not enough to dispel all of Raj’s doubts. But even if it is far from perfect, the book is

xiv ■ Preface

Preface ■ xv

greatly improved as a result. I’ve also benefited enormously from feedback from a good number of others. Michael Klenk, Doug Reeve, Dan Guillery, Showkat Ali, Khatiji Haneef, and Don Berry all provided comments on all or part of the first draft.

I also greatly appreciate the excellent feedback on later drafts provided by the following people: Paul Abela, Acadia University; Caroline T. Arruda, University of Texas at El Paso; Luisa Benton, Richland College; Andrew D.  Chapman, University of Colorado, Boulder; Laura T. Di Summa- Knoop, Fairfield University; Eric Gampel, California State University– Chico; Don Hatcher, Baker University; Carol Hay, University of Massachusetts, Lowell; Debby Hutchins, South Texas College; Rodger Jackson, Stockton University; Alex King, University at Buffalo, SUNY; Julie Kirsch, D’You- ville College; Alice MacLachlan, York University; Michael McKeon, Barry University; Timothy  J.  Nulty, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; Andrew Pavelich, University of Houston; Arina Pismenny, Montclair State University; Aleksandar Pjevalica, University of Texas at El Paso; Weaver Santaniello, Penn State University; Susanne Sreedhar, Boston University; Daniel Star, Boston University; Glenn Tiller, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi; Lori Watson, University of San Diego; and Bryan Weaver, Ohio State University.

I would particularly like to thank Derek Bowman, Providence College; Rory Kraft, York College of Pennsylvania; and Joanna Smolenski, CUNY, for their work in preparing the test bank and coursepack.

J onathan Wolff is the Blavatnik Chair in Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Previously he was Pro- fessor of Philosophy, and Dean of Arts and Humanities, at University College London. His books include Robert Nozick: Property, Justice and the Minimal State (1991), An Introduction to Political Philosophy (1996, 3rd  ed. 2016), Why Read Marx Today? (2002), Disadvantage (with

Avner de- Shalit) (2007), Ethics and Public Policy (2011), and The Human Right to Health (2012). He has been a member of the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, and has worked on questions of the ethics of risk and the valua- tion of life and health with regard to the railway and pharmaceutical indus- tries in the UK, as well as the government. He writes a regular column for The Guardian newspaper.

about the author



C H A P T E R   1

Moral Philosophy and Moral Reasoning

Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young alike ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come.

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

THE POINT OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY In one sense of the word introduction, no one reading this book needs an introduction to morality. Even before we can speak, we receive training in morality; we are taught to share and to take turns. We are told not to bite, pinch, or scratch or to take toys that belong to others. Once we can speak, we are instructed not to lie, and not to make promises we don’t intend to keep. We are shown how to be considerate of others’ feelings, and we find it easy to detect when we have been unfairly treated. Some children take to these rules easily; others have to be reminded again and again. Some never learn. But morality, and moral questions, are all around us from the start.

If morality comes early, moral philosophy, which is the name for thinking and ref lecting about morality, comes later if it comes at all. Although the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 bce) in the opening quote invites everyone to take an early interest in philosophy, another view from the earliest recorded days of philosophy was that moral philosophy is not for the young. Aristotle (384 –322 bce), whom we will look at in detail later in this book, wrote:

Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on [moral philosophy], for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life, but its discussions start from these and are about these; and further, since he tends to follow his

2 ■ An Introduction to Moral Philosophy

passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable, because the end aimed at is not knowledge but action. (Aristotle, Ethics, Book 1, iii)

Aristotle suggests that the young man is not ready to study moral phi- losophy for he lacks experience of life, as well as self- control. For the young woman, Aristotle appears to assume that the question simply does not arise, which ref lects common Ancient Greek views about women’s place in soci- ety (again, something we will look at later). Yet, Aristotle went on to add, youthfulness is not to be measured in years: You could be old but immature and the value of moral philosophy pass you by (Book 1, iii). For the pur- poses of this book I will assume that even if Aristotle is right that moral philosophy needs life experience, then you, female or male, have reached a level of maturity in outlook and behavior that will allow you to benefit from thinking hard about the nature of morality— from doing moral philosophy.

Developing a Moral Outlook But what, more exactly, is moral philosophy, and why study it? From time to time people turn to moral philosophy because they face a serious moral dif- ficulty in their own life that they hope will be resolved, or at least eased, by understanding the works of the great philosophers. Those with such hopes treat philosophers rather like some people approach religious leaders: as a source of moral wisdom and comfort. But as things are, it is the rare moral philosopher who is trained or equipped to help in this very direct fashion.

Nevertheless moral philosophy is a practical subject, albeit with many significant and important theoretical elements. What moral philosophy can do, at its best, is to help you develop your moral outlook on life. By this I mean that it can help you come to a keener sense of what does and does not matter from a moral point of view. It can help you form a view of what considerations do, and do not, need to be taken seriously, and how we should develop our reasoning, attention, and emotions. Most importantly, it can help you think through the nature of your relationships with other people, and with other things of value, such as the animal world and the natural environment. It can help you think about how best to use your talents and energy, and what your goals in life should be. It can also have implications for how you should try to inf luence and, where appropriate, educate those around you. Although, as we will see, many moral philosophers have offered guidance to help in particular situations, often what the best moral phi- losophers do is inspire you to come to a way of seeing the world and the individuals within it.

To give examples of some of the major philosophers discussed here, from the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato (429?–347 bce) we can learn how hard

Chapter 1: Moral Philosophy and Moral Reasoning ■ 3

it is to reject the idea that, deep down, there are objective truths of morality. From Aristotle, whom I have just been discussing, we can learn that moral- ity is as much about human character as it is about action. From the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 –1804), we can appreciate how important it is to treat other people with respect. From the British philosophers Jer- emy Bentham (1748–1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806–73), we can consider whether we agree that primarily what matters is the happiness of human beings and other sentient creatures. And from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 –1900), we can comprehend that genuine morality should not be confused with what we happen to approve or disapprove of at this time in history. All of these thinkers developed their insights in much more depth and very often held detailed moral positions that emphasize their own concerns to the exclusion of others. But they all have something to teach us, not just intellectually, but practically. Their insights can help inform and inspire your moral outlook on life, whether or not you endorse the details of their views.

I said that these great thinkers have something to teach us not just intel- lectually, but practically. Nevertheless many readers will want to reject some of the ideas that I have just outlined, just as many of these philosophers rejected the ideas of other philosophers. To take just one example, Ben- tham and Mill insisted that human (or animal) happiness is the foundation of all morality. Kant thought this was a fundamental error, arguing that respecting the will of other rational creatures, rather than a concern for their happiness, is the basis of morality. Nietzsche was even more dismis- sive, memorably asserting that only the Englishman cares about happiness. Yet many will side with Bentham and Mill against Kant and Nietzsche. In this book I do not try to argue that one particular way of thinking about moral questions is the right one, although it may become obvious where my sympathies lie. My aim, rather, is to introduce some of the best philosophical writing about morality, providing a sense of the options available to guide our ref lections.

Traditions of Moral Philosophy Even for those who want to reject some, or perhaps all, of the ideas men- tioned above as part of their practical approach to morality, the ideas of these thinkers are vitally important and should be studied by anyone who wishes to think seriously about morality. First of all, it is important to gain an understanding of a view in its subtlety and complexity before trying to evaluate it, rather than dismissing it without proper understanding. But equally, these views are a major part of our intellectual inheritance in the

4 ■ An Introduction to Moral Philosophy

Western world, and the spread of Western ideas, for good or ill, has meant that their influence is worldwide. We must therefore be aware of the major traditions of Western moral philosophy if we are to understand world his- tory, literature, or culture or even to participate in debates about war and peace, about life and death, and much else besides.

Nevertheless, I certainly do not want anyone to get the impression that I believe that Western theories of morality are the only ideas worth exam- ining: Chinese, Indian, Arabic, African, and other traditions of ethics are full of wisdom and insight and are worthy of deep study. Some of these, especially Indian traditions, have inf luenced some of the thinkers discussed here. (I have included references to introductory texts in these traditions in “Further Reading” at the end of this chapter.) But a single book cannot possibly cover everything in detail, and I have chosen to concentrate on Western traditions of ethical thought rather than produce a more superficial sample with wider scope. Although I do sometimes mention other traditions (especially in Chapter 2, “Cultural Relativism”), they play a minor role here.

THE NATURE OF MORAL INQUIRY Morality is a puzzle. It’s not like science, where we make observations and conduct experiments to gain and improve knowledge. It is not like literary fiction, which, if we have the skill, we can conjure up out of our imagina- tions. There seem to be moral rules, or at least moral standards. What are they? What do they require of us? Where do they come from? How do we know what they are? Are moral rules like the truths of basic arithmetic, true for all times, all places, and most importantly, all people? If so, then they would seem to have a high degree of objectivity. Or are they more like rules of fashion, coming and going, varying in time and place, at the whim of a few leaders in the field— in the case of fashion, by designers and journal- ists; in the case of morality, by priests, prophets, and perhaps philosophers? If morality is so variable, then the objectivity of morality would seem to be threatened. Or are both comparisons misleading, and is morality nothing like either mathematics or fashion?

Looking more carefully, we can see that it is possible to group these ques- tions into different types. Some of them seem more deeply philosophical in nature, by which I mean that they ask about the fundamental nature of reality and how we can know about it: Where do moral standards come from, and how do we know what they are? Others look more practical: What are the rules, and what do they require of us? In fact, philosophers have made a three- way distinction among areas of moral philosophy: meta- ethics;

Chapter 1: Moral Philosophy and Moral Reasoning ■ 5

normative ethics; and applied ethics. We will now explore the meaning and significance of these terms.

Meta- Ethics The term meta may be relatively familiar now, from information technol- ogy and website design. We use the term meta- data as a way of picking up the most important content on a website, which in turn will be indexed by a search engine. This gives the sense of meta as meaning “of a higher order.” Many philosophical questions are “ meta- questions” in this sense. For example, while scientists want to find out the laws of nature, philoso- phers want to understand what it means to say that something is a law of nature. Like philosophers of science, many moral philosophers are inter- ested in meta- questions. For moral philosophers, questions concerning the nature of value, where the rules of ethics come from, and how we can learn about them are questions of meta- ethics.

In fact, for many people their first meta- ethical discussion might occur very early in life and run along the following lines:

“Be nice to your sister.” “Who says I have to?”

Of course a tired and frustrated parent may be unlikely to have the patience to engage in philosophical ruminations, but this snippet of dialogue raises some fundamental meta- ethical questions. A child is questioning the authority of a moral rule, yet at the same time is making what might be a mistaken assumption: that the only source of authority would be an authoritative human being (by asking “Who says?” rather than “Why should I?”). And, of course, the child is implicitly— and impudently— questioning the authority of whomever she is speaking to. The child’s possible mistake is to assume that moral rules can have authority only if some person with the right to lay down rules has done so. But could it be that moral rules can come to be binding on us in some other way? These are the types of questions explored in the early chapters of this book, where we will look at qu

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