Ethics

Below are readings and essay questions for tutorials in Ethics. Many of the readings are available online, and all are easily obtained from the college or other libraries in Oxford, but if you are struggling to get hold of anything, email me, as I have PDF copies of nearly everything.

The default plan is to cover the TUTORIAL TOPICS, focusing mainly on normative ethics and some key contributions in the history of philosophy. We start with four weeks on the question of morality’s content, spending two weeks on consequentialism and deontology, the two main contemporary approaches to normative ethics, and two weeks on the moral theory of Kant, one of the main historical influences on deontology. These weeks raise important questions about practical reason and the normative status of morality—questions that we take up in more detail in the next two weeks, with a week looking at the challenge to morality posed by psychological and rational egoism and another on Hume’s ethics. The last two weeks return to the contemporary scene, bringing together what we’ve learnt over the previous six, and look at two different nonconsequentialist approaches to normative ethics, virtue ethics and contractualism. But the plan is not set in stone. I have also listed a range of OTHER TOPICS, and if you would like to cover any of these—or something else—let me know, and we’ll see what we can do. Topics you may have covered in doing the first year Moral Philosophy course, and so might want to leave for self-study in vacations, are marked with a dagger (†).

The reading for each topic is divided into two parts. In writing your tutorial essay, focus on the CORE READING, using as a guide the more introductory texts marked with a star (*) and any Faculty lectures on the topic—the lectures may be available online via Canvas, and are a good indication of what might come up in the exams. You can look at the FURTHER READING, as well as anything else of relevance in the Faculty reading list, when exploring topics in more depth during later vacations.

The current version of this reading list was put together in light of using previous incarnations in teaching Ethics to undergraduates in Oxford over the years. I’m grateful to various friends and colleagues for advice and discussion, especially Nadine Elzein, Edward Harcourt, Ulrike Heuer, Chris Jay, Ed Lamb, Mike Martin, Véronique Munoz-Dardé, Stefan Sienkiewicz, and Tom Sinclair. If you’d like to use the list for teaching, please feel free. Feedback and corrections will be gratefully received.

Latest update: 9th July 2022.

TUTORIAL TOPICS

  1. Objections to Consequentialism
  2. The Paradox of Deontology
  3. Kant on Moral Motivation
  4. The Categorical Imperative
  5. Egoism: Why Be Moral?
  6. Hume’s Ethics
  7. Virtue Ethics
  8. Contractualism

OTHER TOPICS: METAETHICS

  1. Moral Realism
  2. Error Theory and Fictionalism
  3. Non-Cognitivism and Quasi-Realism
  4. Naturalism and Non-Naturalism
  5. Moral Relativism

OTHER TOPICS: REASONS and MOTIVES

  1. Practical Reasoning
  2. Motivational Internalism

OTHER TOPICS: NORMATIVE ETHICS

  1. Well-Being†
  2. Equality
  3. Rights†
  4. Doing and Intending Harm

OTHER TOPICS: MORAL PSYCHOLOGY

  1. Free Will and Moral Responsibility†
  2. Conscience, Guilt, and Shame
 

VACATION READING and TEXTBOOKS

If you are thinking about whether to take Ethics, or have decided to do so and want to do some preliminary reading over the vacation beforehand, take a look at some of the following introductory textbooks. (Note that earlier editions, where applicable, are cheaper and often just as good.)

*Driver, Julia (2006) Ethics: The Fundamentals (Blackwell).

*Rachels, James and Stuart Rachels (2018) The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 9th ed. (McGraw Hill).

*Shafer-Landau, Russ (2021) The Fundamentals of Ethics, 5th ed. (OUP).

For consolidation in later vacations, you might want something a little more advanced. The following are all recommended. They are no substitute for working through the CORE READING and FURTHER READING, however. To do well in any philosophy paper, you have to work through the details.

*Kagan, Shelly (1998) Normative Ethics (Routledge).

*Timmons, Mark (2012) Moral Theory: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (Rowman & Littlefield).

*Wiggins, David (2006) Ethics: Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality (Penguin).

I also recommend that you take the opportunity to familiarise yourself beforehand, if you haven’t already, with these four classics of moral philosophy—the exam will offer you opportunities to display knowledge of them. We’ll be focusing on Hume’s Treatise and, especially, Kant’s Groundwork.

Aristotle (c. 350 B.C.E.) Nicomachean Ethics. Various editions, inc. 3rd Hackett edition, trans. and ed. by Terence Irwin (Hackett, 2019).

Hume, David (1739/40) A Treatise of Human Nature, Books II (esp. Part 3 Section 3) and III. Various editions, inc. Oxford Philosophical Texts edition, ed. by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton (OUP, 2000).

Kant, Immanuel (1785) Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. I recommend the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy rev. edition, trans. and ed. by Mary Gregor and Jens Timmermann (Cambridge UP, 2012).

Mill, John Stuart (1861) Utilitarianism. Various editions, inc. Oxford Philosophical Texts edition, ed. by Roger Crisp (OUP, 1998).

ANTHOLOGIES and COLLECTIONS

While most of the readings can be obtained online, it’s often useful to have good anthologies and collections of papers to hand, so as to be able to read around a bit more widely. The following are all recommended, containing many of the key readings and more besides, and are often referenced below. (Again, second-hand copies of earlier editions, where available, are cheaper and just as good.)

Cahn, Steven, and Peter Markie, eds. (2016) Ethics: History, Theory, and Contemporary Issues, 6th ed. (OUP). Referred to below as Cahn and Markie.

Copp, David, ed. (2006) The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory (OUP). Referred to below as Copp.

Crisp, Roger and Michael Slote, eds. (1997) Virtue Ethics (OUP). Referred to below as Crisp and Slote.

Dreier, Jamie, ed. (2006) Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory (Blackwell). Referred to below as Dreier.

Hill, Thomas E. Jr., ed. The Blackwell Guide to Kant's Ethics (Blackwell). Referred to below as Hill.

LaFollette, Hugh, and Ingmar Persson, eds. (2013) The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, 2nd ed. (Blackwell). Referred to below as LaFollette and Persson.

Raphael, D. D. (David Daiches), ed. (1969) British Moralists: 1650-1800 (OUP, 2 Volumes). Referred to below as Raphael.

Scheffler, Samuel, ed. (1988) Consequentialism and its Critics (OUP). Referred to below as Scheffler.

Shafer-Landau, Russ, ed. (2012) Ethical Theory: An Anthology, 2nd ed. (Wiley-Blackwell). Referred to below as Shafer-Landau.

Sher, George, ed. (2012) Ethics: The Essential Readings (Routledge). Referred to below as Sher.

TUTORIAL TOPICS

Chidi

1. OBJECTIONS to CONSEQUENTIALISM

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In setting the essay question and readings for this topic, I’ve assumed you’re familiar with both utilitarianism and consequentialism more generally from the Moral Philosophy component of the first year course. If not, let me know, and I will suggest a different essay question and set of readings.

ESSAY QUESTION

What are the most serious objections to consequentialism? Are any of them decisive?

CORE READING

*Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter (2003/19) ‘Consequentialism’ in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2021 Edition).

Williams, Bernard (1973) ‘A Critique of Utilitarianism’ in J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams (1973) Utilitarianism: For & Against (Cambridge UP). Reprinted in Cahn and Markie, Scheffler, and Sher.

Railton, Peter (1984) ‘Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality’ in Philosophy & Public Affairs 13(2), pp. 134–171. Reprinted in Scheffler, Shafer-Landau, and Sher.

Sobel, David (2007) ‘The Impotence of the Demandingness Objection’ in Philosophers' Imprint 7(8), pp. 1-17.

FURTHER READING

In thinking about this week’s topic in more depth, start perhaps with Brink’s overview in Copp. Then get hold of a copy of Scheffler, which collects together a series of classic papers that are invaluable in thinking about both this week’s topic and next’s. Besides the Williams, it contains two other important criticisms of consequentialism: Rawls, in a selection from his A Theory of Justice, ‘Classical Utilitarianism,’ (also reprinted in Sher,) presents the influential objection that utilitarianism fails to respect the separateness of persons, while Nagel, in his ‘War and Massacre,’ presents a version of the objection that consequentialism is too permissive. Responses to the demandingness objection tend to fall into three categories: extremists argue the extreme demands consequentialism is alleged to make are not unreasonable, denialists argue that consequentialism doesn’t make the alleged demands anyway, while reformists argue that consequentialism can be reformulated in such a way as to avoid making them. Kagan (1989), listed as CORE READING for next week, THE PARADOX of DEONTOLOGY, is a classic defence of extremism. Denialism tends to shade into reformism; Jackson (1991) is perhaps an example of the former while Railton’s indirect consequentialism, discussed and defended in Mason (1998), is perhaps an example of the latter. Other, more clearly reformist approaches include the hybrid approach developed in Scheffler (1993), also listed as CORE READING for next week’s topic—see especially pp. 1-22 and 55-70. See also rule consequentialism, defended by Hooker in, for example, his contribution to LaFollette and Persson (and reprinted in Shafer-Landau and Sher); satisficing consequentialism, critically discussed in Bradley (2006); and scalar consequentialism, defended by Norcross in his contribution to Dreier (and reprinted in Sher). (Dreier also contains a couple of other pieces relevant to this week’s topic, by Shaw and Vallentyne.) For critical discussion of extremism, denialism, and reformism, see Mulgan (2001). For some critical discussion of Sobel’s treatment of the demandingness objection, try Woollard (2016). Williams’ objection is sometimes taken—in Ashford (2000), for example—as a version of the demandingness objection, though you should think carefully about whether that’s the best way to understand it; Ch. 4 of Hurley (2009), raising issues about the normative status of morality that we’ll be looking at soon, is useful in this regard. Another objection you might want to think about is the so-called cluelessness objection; see in particular Lenman (2000) and, for some critical discussion of it, Greaves (2016).

Ashford, Elizabeth (2000) ‘Utilitarianism, Integrity, and Partiality’ in Journal of Philosophy 97(8), pp. 421-39.

Bradley, Ben (2006) ‘Against Satisficing Consequentialism’ in Utilitas 18(2), pp. 97–108.

Greaves, Hilary (2016) ‘Cluelessness’ in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 116(3), pp. 311–39.

Hurley, Paul (2009) Beyond Consequentialism (OUP).

Jackson, Frank (1991) ‘Decision-Theoretic Consequentialism and the Nearest and Dearest Objection’ in Ethics 101(3), pp. 461–82.

Lenman, James (2000) ‘Consequentialism and Cluelessness’ in Philosophy and Public Affairs 29(4), pp. 342–70.

Mason, Elinor (1998) ‘Can an Indirect Consequentialist Be a Real Friend?’ in Ethics 108(2), pp. 386-93.

Mulgan, Tim (2001) The Demands of Consequentialism (OUP). This doesn't seem to be available online. If you have difficulty getting hold of it from libraries, email me.

Woollard, Fiona (2016) ‘Dimensions of Demandingness’ in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 116(1), pp. 89–106.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

Can consequentialists make adequate sense of moral dilemmas? (2021)

‘Since just about all consequences of actions are unforeseen and unforeseeable, we are ignorant about which actions to perform if consequentialism is true.’ Is that so? What does your answer suggest about the truth of consequentialism? (2020)

EITHER
(a) ‘There exists no plausible theoretical account of how we could fail to be obligated to bring about the best available outcome whenever doing so is permissible. Therefore, the objection that consequentialism is too demanding is ineffective.’ Discuss.
OR
(b) ‘There exists no plausible theoretical account of how it could be wrong to harm others if we thereby bring about the best available outcome. Therefore, the objection that consequentialism is too permissive is ineffective.’ Discuss. (2019)

Do demandingness objections to consequentialism illicitly assume that a moral requirement to φ implies an all-things-considered requirement to φ? (2018)

2. THE PARADOX of DEONTOLOGY

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Studying this topic helps you to better understand both consequentialism and its alternatives, but past paper questions on it are infrequent. If you have already studied it for the Moral Philosophy component of the first year course, leave it for self-study, and move on to KANT on MORAL MOTIVATION.

ESSAY QUESTION

Can deontologists give an adequate explanation of why it is sometimes impermissible to violate a deontological constraint to prevent a greater number of violations of the same constraint?

CORE READING

*Kagan, Shelly (1989) The Limits of Morality (OUP), Ch. 1, esp. pp. 24-32.

Scheffler, Samuel (1993) The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions, rev. ed. (OUP; 1st ed. 1982), pp. 1-4 and Ch. 4.

Foot, Philippa (1985) ‘Utilitarianism and the Virtues’ in Mind 94(374), pp. 196–209. Reprinted in her (2002) Moral Dilemmas and Other Topics in Moral Philosophy (OUP) and in Scheffler.

Kamm, F. M. (Frances Myrna) (2007) Intricate Ethics (OUP), Ch. 1, ‘Nonconsequentialism,’ esp. pp. 26-30, ‘Inviolability’. Reprinted in LaFollette and Persson, where the key section is on pp. 272-6.

FURTHER READING

In comparison with consequentialism, contemporary deontology is rather undeveloped. In thinking about it further, start perhaps with Kagan (1998), an introduction to normative ethics focused on the debate between deontology and consequentialism. See also McNaughton and Rawling’s paper in Copp, the papers suggested in connection with DOING and INTENDING HARM, and, if you’re feeling up to it, the rest of Kamm (2007). As Kamm mentions, its spiritual roots are the works of Kant, who we begin to look at next week, and W. D. Ross. Crudely put, where Kant was a monist and an absolutist, Ross was a pluralist and a moderate. (He also endorsed MORAL REALISM, where Kant was arguably a kind of constructivist.) See especially Ch. 2 of Ross (1930/2002), as well as Stratton-Lake’s introduction and McNaughton and Rawling’s contribution to LaFollette and Persson. In thinking specifically about the paradox of deontology, Scheffler is again very useful. Besides the piece by Foot, see especially Scheffler’s introduction, Nozick’s ‘Side Constraints’, (also reprinted in Shafer-Landau,) Nagel’s ‘Autonomy and Deontology’, and Scheffler’s ‘Agent-Centred Restrictions, Rationality, and the Virtues’—a reply to Foot which is also reprinted as an appendix to his (1993) book. For some critical discussion of Kamm’s approach, see Lippert-Rasmussen (2009). Other recent discussions of the paradox include Chappell (2011), Hare (2013), and Heuer (2011). As Foot’s article makes clear, the flipside to the paradox is an argument for act consequentialism, based on the idea, roughly put, that it is always right to bring about the best. For some more critical discussion of this, see esp. Ch. 5 of Hurley (2009), which is listed as FURTHER READING for last week’s topic, OBJECTIONS to CONSEQUENTIALISM. For influential arguments for rule consequentialism, see Parfit (2011a) and Hooker’s contribution to LaFollette and Persson. Think also about the relationship between deontology and consequentialism. Some, like Dreier (1993), argue that deontology can be regarded as a non-standard form of consequentialism—one that adopts a certain agent-centred conception of the good. For critical discussion, bearing on the paradox of deontology, see Schroeder (2007).

Chappell, Timothy (Sophie Grace) (2011) ‘Intuition, System, and the “Paradox” of Deontology’ in Lawrence Jost and Julian Wuerth, eds. Perfecting Virtue (Cambridge UP).

Dreier, James (1993) ‘Structures of Normative Theories’ in Monist 76(1), pp. 22–40.

Hare, Caspar (2013) The Limits of Kindness (OUP), Ch. 6.

Heuer, Ulrike (2011) ‘The Paradox of Deontology, Revisited’ in Mark Timmons, ed. Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol. 1 (OUP).

*Kagan, Shelly (1998) Normative Ethics (Routledge), esp. Ch. 3 and 4.

Lippert-Rasmussen, Kasper (2009) ‘Kamm on Inviolability and Agent-Relative Restrictions’ in Res Publica 15(2), pp. 165–78.

Parfit, Derek (2011a) On What Matters, Volume One (OUP), Ch. 16.

Ross, W. D. (William David) (1930/2002) The Right and the Good, ed. by Philip Stratton-Lake (OUP). Relevant selections are reprinted in Cahn and Markie, Shafer-Landau and Sher.

Schroeder, Mark (2007) ‘Teleology, Agent‐Relative Value, and “Good”’ in Ethics 117(2), pp. 265–295.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

EITHER
(a) ‘There exists no plausible theoretical account of how we could fail to be obligated to bring about the best available outcome whenever doing so is permissible. Therefore, the objection that consequentialism is too demanding is ineffective.’ Discuss.
OR
(b) ‘There exists no plausible theoretical account of how it could be wrong to harm others if we thereby bring about the best available outcome. Therefore, the objection that consequentialism is too permissive is ineffective.’ Discuss. (2019)

Since a deontologist can always hold that rule-breakings are intrinsically bad, there is no serious question over whether consequentialism is true – the question is only which consequences are important.’ Is that so? (2014)

EITHER
(a) Can it ever be morally right to bring about a worse rather than a better state of affairs?
OR
(b) Can a utilitarian be a good friend? Does it matter whether or not she can? (2011)

EITHER
(a) ‘There is no important difference between consequentialism and other moral theories, since any plausible theory can be defined in consequentialist terms.’ Discuss.
OR
(b) ‘A consequentialist does not care about people; he only cares about goodness.’ Is this a fair criticism of consequentialism? (2009)

3. KANT on MORAL MOTIVATION

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Many think morality involves, not just doing the right thing, but doing it for the right reasons. Kant is often held to have a particularly austere account of this sort. We look at his account this week, our first of at least two weeks on Kant, and the first of several on topics relating to issues of moral motivation.

ESSAY QUESTION

How, in Kant’s view, must an action be motivated in order for it to have “moral worth”? Is he right?

CORE READING

*Schneewind, Jerome B. (1992) ‘Autonomy, Obligation, and Virtue: An Overview of Kant's Moral Philosophy’ in Paul Guyer, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Kant (Cambridge UP).

Kant, Immanuel (1785) Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Preface and §I. I recommend the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy rev. edition, trans. and ed. by Mary Gregor and Jens Timmermann (Cambridge UP, 2012). Selections—either of alternative translations or the earlier, unrevised version of Gregor's—are also reprinted in Cahn and Markie, Shafer-Landau and Sher.

Herman, Barbara (1993) The Practice of Moral Judgement (Harvard UP), Ch. 1. This isn't available online. If you have difficulty getting hold of it from libraries, email me. The relevant chapter was originally published as her (1981) ‘On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty’ in The Philosophical Review 90(3), pp. 359–382, and is also reprinted in Cahn and Markie.

Arpaly, Nomy (2002) ‘Moral Worth’ in Journal of Philosophy 99(5), pp. 223–245. An extended version appears as Ch. 3 of her (2003) Unprincipled Virtue: An Inquiry into Moral Agency (OUP).

FURTHER READING

One piece to prioritise in thinking more about Kant and moral motivation is Baron (1995), defending Kant from the objection that he places too much value on acting from duty, though warning against thinking of him as exclusively concerned with what he calls the moral worth of an action. Baron insists that he’s in fact more interested in character and virtue. Other pieces to prioritise include Markovits (2010), who takes a similar line to Arpaly in the CORE READING and argues that what matters for the moral worth of an action is that the agent act for the reasons that make the act is right—the reasons why it is right—rather than for the reason that it is right, and Sliwa (2016), who responds in defence of the view that moral motivation requires both a concern for doing what is right and knowledge that the action is right. For extended discussion of the issues, see also Stratton-Lake (2000). See also the introductory overview by Johnson in Hill. The background worry is that orthodox approaches in ethics, such as Kant’s, are overly austere, allowing little room for personal relationships and ordinary human motivations. For an influential discussion of Kant’s ethics, in particular, see Williams (1976), raising the objection that Kant’s account of moral motivation involves “one thought too many”. See also Langton (1992), connecting with issues we’ll come to with the topic, EGOISM: WHY BE MORAL?, and focusing on issues arising out of the correspondence between Kant and Maria von Herbert, who had written to Kant in a state of deep depression, seeking his advice. Less focused on Kant but also relevant are various of the papers reprinted in Crisp and Slote. See especially Michael Stocker’s ‘The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories’ and Susan Wolf’s ‘Moral Saints’—the latter is also reprinted in Cahn and Markie, Shafer-Landau, and Sher. See also another paper in Crisp and Slote, Foot’s ‘Virtues and Vices,’ offering a VIRTUE ETHICS perspective on issues of moral worth. For more on how this week’s topic connects with Kant’s wider aims in the Groundwork and later weeks’ topics, Korsgaard (1989) is very useful, as is Kerstein’s piece in Hill. You might also want to look at other ethical writings by Kant, especially the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Metaphysics of Morals (1797), which are collected along with many other relevant writings in Kant (1997). Lastly, Rawls’ lectures on Kant, published in his (2000) are invaluable. The resurgence of interest in Kant’s ethics in the 70s and 80s was largely due to the influence of Rawls and his students, Barbara Herman, Christine Korsgaard, and Onora O’Neill, and his lectures are very helpful, both as a guide to Groundwork and in gaining a better understanding of Rawls’ influence on contemporary ethics. The first lecture on Kant is the one that is most relevant for this week, and lectures II to IV for next week.

Baron, Marcia (1995) Kantian Ethics Almost Without Apology (Cornell UP), Ch. 5.

Kant, Immanuel (1997) Practical Philosophy, ed. by Mary Gregor (Cambridge UP).

Korsgaard, Christine (1989) ‘Kant's Analysis of Obligation: The Argument of Foundations I’ in The Monist 72(3), pp. 311-340. Reprinted in her (1996) Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge UP).

Langton, Rae (1992) ‘Duty and Desolation’ in Philosophy 67(262), pp. 481–505. Reprinted in her (2009) Sexual Solipsism (OUP) and abridged as ‘Maria Von Herbert’s Challenge to Kant’ in Sher.

Markovits, Julia (2010) ‘Acting for the Right Reasons’ in The Philosophical Review 119(2), pp. 201–42.

Rawls, John (2000) Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, ed. by Barbara Herman (Harvard UP). This isn't available online. If you have difficulty getting hold of it from libraries, email me.

Sliwa, Paulina (2016) ‘Moral Worth and Moral Knowledge’ in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 93(2), pp. 393–418.

Stratton-Lake, Philip (2000) Kant, Duty and Moral Worth (Routledge), Ch. 1 to 4.

Williams, Bernard (1976) ‘Persons, Character, and Morality’ in Alice Rorty, ed. The Identity of Persons (University of California Press). Reprinted in his (1981) Moral Luck (Cambridge UP) and Sher.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

‘In the end, Kant’s ethics gives obligation to our loved ones only derivative value at best.’ How significant an objection to Kant’s ethics is this? (2021)

How should we account for special obligations to loved ones? (2018)

Is there a moral duty to do as one’s conscience dictates? (2017)

EITHER
(a) ‘Even if the Categorical Imperative gets the moral prescriptions right, Kant doesn’t have a satisfactory account of why these are the prescriptions.’ Discuss.
OR
(b) ‘Acting from duty seems to me to be crucial to morally good conduct.’ (BARON) Is it? (2016)

4. THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

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ESSAY QUESTION

Could either of Kant’s universal law formulations of the Categorical Imperative serve as the supreme principle of morality? Would it be a decisive objection to Kant’s moral philosophy if they could not?

CORE READING

*Hill, Thomas E. Jr. (2006) ‘Kantian Normative Ethics’ in Copp. Reprinted in his (2012) Virtue, Rules, and Justice: Kantian Aspirations (OUP).

Kant, Immanuel (1785) Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, §§I and II. I recommend the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy rev. edition, trans. and ed. by Mary Gregor and Jens Timmermann (Cambridge UP, 2012). Selections, either of alternative translations or the earlier, unrevised version of Gregor's, are reprinted in Cahn and Markie, Shafer-Landau and Sher.

Korsgaard, Christine (1996) Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge UP), Ch. 3. The relevant chapter was originally published as her (1985) ‘Kant's Formula of Universal Law’ in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 66(1-2), pp. 24-47, and is also reprinted in Shafer-Landau.

Wood, Allen (1999) Kant's Ethical Thought (Cambridge UP), Ch. 3.

FURTHER READING

In thinking about this topic in more depth focus first on the formulas of universal law (FUL) and universal law of nature (FLN). Influenced by Rawls and O’Neill, many take these to summarise a decision procedure for determining whether or not an action is permissible, the so-called CI procedure, which involves identifying the maxim of an action, “universalizing” it, and testing to see whether the result gives rise to either a contradiction in conception or a contradiction in the will. So understood, the central question is whether there is any interpretation of the procedure that avoids counter-examples—either false positives (intuitively immoral maxims that pass the tests) or false negatives (intuitively permissible maxims that fail). In thinking about the issue, work through the fairly exhaustive (and somewhat exhausting) catalogue of interpretations and counter-examples in Ch. 12 of Parfit (2011a), listed as FURTHER READING for THE PARADOX of DEONTOLOGY. See also: Wiggins (1987); Ch. 5 of O’Neill (1989); Nyholm (2015) and Kleingeld (2019), responding to Parfit; and Ch. 7 of Herman (1993). Galvin’s piece in Hill is a good overview. The essay question focuses on the FUL and FLN, but think also about Kant’s other formulations of the CI. Past papers often include questions relating to the formula of humanity (FH), which enjoins us to use humanity in ourselves and others always as an end in itself and never merely as a means. Is there any way of understanding the distinction here between using humanity as an end in itself and never merely as a means so that it has moral significance? Parfit (2011a) is again very useful, criticising a range of different interpretations of the FH in Ch. 9. See also: Ch. 2 of Hill (1992); Ch. 6 of O’Neill (1989) and Ch. 4 of Korsgaard (1996), defending a possible consent approach; Pallikkathayil (2010), criticising the possible consent approach and connecting the FH to Kant’s political philosophy; Scanlon (2008); and Ch. 4 of Wood (1999), arguing that the FH only yields conclusions about duties on the basis of intermediate premises and a faculty of judgement irreducible to general rules—part of his campaign against treating Kant’s ethics as a kind of “ethical sausage machine”. Kerstein (2019) is a good survey of the issues, as is Dean’s contribution to Hill. Lastly, have a think about the formulas of autonomy (FA) and the kingdom of ends (FKE). You’ll find relevant discussion of these in Ch. 3 of Hill (1992), Ch. 5 of Korsgaard (1996), Ch. 7 of O’Neill (1989), and Ch. 5 of Wood (1999)—while Holtmann’s contribution to Hill provides an accessible overview. You’ll also find discussion of all the formulas in the lectures on Kant in Rawls (2000), listed as FURTHER READING for KANT on MORAL MOTIVATION. See especially lectures II to IV.

Herman, Barbara (1993) The Practice of Moral Judgement (Harvard UP). This isn't available online. If you have difficulty getting hold of it from libraries, email me.

Hill, Thomas E. Jr. (1992) Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant's Moral Theory (Cornell UP).

Kerstein, Samuel (2019) ‘Treating Persons as Means’ in Edward Zalta, ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2019 edition).

Kleingeld, Pauline (2019) ‘A Contradiction of the Right Kind: Convenience Killing and Kant’s Formula of Universal Law’ in The Philosophical Quarterly 69(274), pp. 64–81.

Nyholm, Sven (2015) ‘Kant’s Universal Law Formula Revisited’ in Metaphilosophy 46(2), pp. 280–99.

O'Neill, Onora (1989) Constructions of Reason (Cambridge UP).

Pallikkathayil, Japa (2010) ‘Deriving Morality from Politics: Rethinking the Formula of Humanity’ in Ethics 121(1), pp. 116–47.

Scanlon, T. M. (Tim) (2008) Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, Blame (Harvard UP), Ch. 3.

Wiggins, David (1987) ‘Universalizability, Impartiality, Truth’ in his (2002) Needs, Values, Truth, 3rd ed. (OUP). This isn't available online. If you have difficulty getting hold of it from libraries, email me.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

Is there a way to interpret the principle that one ought never to treat anyone as a mere means that gives it non-derivative moral force and has intuitively compelling implications? (2021)

EITHER
(a) ‘If lying to a bank employee in order to secure a loan which I cannot pay back cannot serve as a law of nature, lying to my captor in order to secure my freedom from imprisonment also cannot. Yet while the former is impermissible, the latter is permissible. So, whether something can hold as a universal law of nature is neither here nor there when it comes to its deontological status.’ Is this a good argument?
OR
(b) What is the difference between treating someone as a means and treating them as a mere means? Does that difference matter, morally speaking? (2020)

What does it mean to treat humanity always as an end in itself and never as a mere means? Is this a plausible moral requirement? (2019)

Is there any important relation between being able to will one’s maxim as a universal law and treating humanity as an end in itself? (2018)

5. EGOISM: WHY BE MORAL?

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So far we’ve been looking at the content of morality. This week, we look at its normative status—an issue taken up by Kant in the difficult third section of the Groundwork. In the background is an early modern debate between egoists, moral rationalists like Kant, and moral sentimentalists like Hume.

ESSAY QUESTION

How do psychological and rational egoism challenge morality? How, if at all, are these challenges to be met?

CORE READING

*Shaver, Robert (2002/19) ‘Egoism’ in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 edition).

Williams, Bernard (1973) ‘Egoism and Altruism’ in his Problems of the Self (Cambridge UP).

Blackburn, Simon (1998) Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reasoning (OUP), Ch. 5. This doesn't seem to be available online. If you have difficulty getting hold of it from libraries, email me for a PDF.

Hills, Alison (2010) The Beloved Self: Morality and the Challenge from Egoism (OUP), Ch. 1 and 2. Also, if you can, Ch. 5 and 11, criticising ambitious vindications and sketching a modest alternative.

FURTHER READING

The problem posed by rational egoism goes back at least as far as Plato’s Republic (c. 380 BC). (You’ll find relevant extracts in Cahn and Markie, Shafer-Landau, and Sher.) At first pass, the worry is that, if rational egoism is true, and one only ever has reason to pursue one’s self-interest, then one doesn’t have reason to be moral unless it advances one’s self-interest. Some respond by arguing that morality does advance one’s self-interest, i.e. by arguing for some form of ethical egoism. For one strategy here, see Ch. 13 to 15 of Hobbes’ Leviathan, reprinted in Cahn and Markie, Raphael, Shafer-Landau, and Sher. For another, see the rest of Plato’s Republic and discussions of perfectionism in connection with WELL-BEING. But it’s not clear that any form of ethical egoism fully addresses the problem. As Prichard (1912) emphasises, if rational egoism is true, one’s reason for being moral can only be that it is in one’s self-interest, and so doesn’t seem to be of the right sort—one cannot do the right thing for the right reasons. It may be that the better option is therefore to reject rational egoism altogether. There are various strategies here. One, associated particularly with proponents of Humean conceptions of practical rationality, rejects rational egoism for an alternative account on which some of us, some of the time, have reason to be moral, even when it goes against our self-interest—though others conceivably might not. Foot (1972) is a classic example, as is the piece by Williams in the CORE READING. Others take a harder line, and try to show that all of us, all of the time, have reason to be moral—i.e. to provide a vindication of morality. (The likes of Raz (1999), who thinks that there is something suspect about the idea of an amoralist, are harder to place.) Hills, in the CORE READING, criticises various attempts to provide an ambitious vindication—i.e. one that would convince even the amoralist—and goes on to offer her own modest vindication. Think about the ambitious vindications she criticises, especially Parfit (1984). You’ll find more discussion of Parfit in the pieces by Brink and Johnston in Dancy, ed. (1997). Rounding off your work on Kant, you might also want to think about his attempt at ambitious vindication. See section III of the Groundwork as well as the discussion in Allison (2011) and Ch. 6 of Korsgaard (1996), listed as CORE READING for THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE. For a recent attempt at ambitious vindication, see de Lazari-Radek and Singer (2014). Think also about Hills’ own modest vindication, which is usefully contrasted with Prichard (1912). Psychological egoism also poses problems. Insofar as ought implies can, it appears to imply rational egoism, or something much like it. But it also seems to imply, more directly, that, even where one can do the right thing, one cannot do it for the right reasons. In thinking about it more, see, in addition to Blackburn’s piece in the CORE READING, Sober’s contribution to LaFollette and Persson and Stich, Doris, and Roedder (2010). Also take a look at the early modern debate, especially Butler’s argument against psychological egoism in Sermon XI of his (1726) Fifteen Sermons at the Rolls Chapel, reprinted in Cahn and Markie and Raphael. For an important later treatment, key background to contemporary debates, see Sidgwick (1907), who hoped to show that rational egoism and morality, specifically utilitarianism, can be reconciled, but couldn’t see how to do it without appeal to God.

Allison, Henry E. (2011) Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Commentary (OUP), Part IV.

Dancy, Jonathan, ed. (1997) Reading Parfit (Blackwell). This doesn't seem to be available online, but Brink's paper is available here: https://davidobrink.com/publication/rational-egoism-and-separateness-persons

Foot, Philippa (1972) ‘Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives’ in The Philosophical Review 81(3), pp. 305–316. Reprinted in her (2002) Virtues and Vices (OUP), Cahn and Markie, Shafer-Landau, and Sher.

de Lazari-Radek, Katarzyna and Peter Singer (2014) The Point of View of the Universe: Sidgwick and Contemporary Ethics (OUP), Ch. 7. See also Ch. 6, discussing Sidgwick, Parfit, and others.

Parfit, Derek (1984) Reasons and Persons (OUP), pp. 1-24, 87-95, Part II, and Part III (esp. Ch. 14).

Prichard, H. A. (Harold Arthur) (1912) ‘Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?’ in Mind 21(81), pp. 21-37. Reprinted in his (2002) Moral Writings, edited by Jim MacAdam (OUP) and Cahn and Markie.

Raz, Joseph (1999) Engaging Reason: On the Theory of Value and Action (OUP), Ch. 11 to 13.

Sidgwick, Henry (1907) Methods of Ethics, 7th ed. (Macmillan), Bk. IV, Ch. II and Concluding Chapter.

Stich, Stephen, John. M. Doris, and Erica Roedder, (2010) ‘Altruism’ in John M. Doris, ed., The Moral Psychology Handbook (OUP).

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

EITHER
(a) ‘There is no essential conflict between morality and self-interest because a good life is one that involves attention to the interests of others.’ Discuss.
OR
(b) ‘A person’s virtues are called good with respect to their presumed effects not on him but on us and society—the praise of virtues has always been far from “selfless”, far from “unegoistic”! […] The neighbour praises selflessness because it brings him advantages! […] Hereby we hint at the fundamental contradiction in the morality that is very much honoured just now: the motives to this morality stand in opposition to its principle!’ (NIETZSCHE) Discuss. (2021)

‘The answer to the question “Why be prudent?” is neither more nor less clear than the answer to the question “Why be moral?”’ Is that true? What does your answer imply, if anything, about the plausibility of egoism as opposed to moralism? (2020)

‘The egoist believes that whether some future person will be me is crucial to whether I should care about that person’s well-being. But personal identity is not so important as all that.’ Discuss. (2019)

EITHER
(a) ‘To be sure, it is not inconsistent or incoherent to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. But it is contrary to reason.’ Discuss.
OR
(b) ‘There is no imprudence more flagrant than that of Selfishness in the ordinary sense of the term.’ (SIDGWICK) Discuss. (2018)

6. HUME’S ETHICS

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Hume is a key figure in the history of moral philosophy, and understanding his work is crucial to fully appreciating issues concerning Kant and practical reason. The CORE READING focuses on Hume’s own writings: use your knowledge of Kant and others to think about what’s controversial about them.

ESSAY QUESTION

What does Hume mean when he says that moral distinctions are not derived from reason? Are his arguments for this convincing? Is his alternative, sentimentalist account of moral assessment defensible? What problem do artificial virtues, such as justice, pose for him? Does he solve it?

CORE READING

*Noonan, Harold (2007) Hume (OneWorld Publications), Ch. 6, ‘Morality’. This doesn't seem to be available online. If you have difficulty getting hold of it from libraries, email me for a PDF.

David Hume (1739/1740) A Treatise of Human Nature, Book II, Part 3, Section 3, ‘Of the Influencing Motives of the Will’, and Book III, ‘Of Morals’, especially: Part 1; Part 2, Sections 1 and 2; and Part 3, Section 1. Various editions, inc. Oxford Philosophical Texts edition, ed. by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton (OUP, 2000). Relevant selections are reprinted in Cahn and Markie, Raphael, and Sher, and in part in Shafer-Landau.

— (1751/77) An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section IX, especially Part 2. Various editions, inc. Oxford Philosophical Texts, ed. by Tom L. Beauchamp (OUP, 1998).

FURTHER READING

In pursuing this topic further, you might want to look at the rest of Books II and, especially, III of the Treatise, and will certainly want to look at the rest of the Enquiry, where Hume presents things a bit differently, foregrounding his positive account of virtue and vice, and relegating his case against moral rationalism to an appendix—Appendix 1. It also criticises egoism—see especially Appendix 2. And Hume himself thought it was “incomparably the best” of his writings. (Cahn and Markie and Raphael both reprint large parts of it.) Hume (1757), a later essay, is also very helpful. The main issues to think about are (a) Hume’s account of motivation and criticisms of moral rationalism, (b) his sentimentalist account of moral assessment, and (c) his account of the artificial virtues, especially justice. It’s mainly the first issue that comes up in past papers, but the others do come up on occasion. (Note that, while the examination regulations for the paper state that candidates will be given the opportunity to demonstrate first-hand knowledge of Hume’s writings, that doesn’t mean there will be questions explicitly about him, never mind his account of motivation or criticisms of rationalism!) In any case, all these aspects of Hume’s views are relevant to the issues we’re exploring this term, as well as various of other topics in ethics. In thinking about them, you’ll want to look at some of the secondary literature. Start with the papers by Penelhum and Norton in Norton and Taylor, eds. (2009)—the papers there by Taylor and Haakonsen are also useful. You’ll find similarly useful survey pieces in Parts III of both Radcliffe, ed. (2008) and Russell, ed. (2016). Beyond these, Mackie (1980) is a classic, and very influential, as is Stroud (1977). See also the lectures on Hume in Rawls (2000), listed in the FURTHER READING for KANT on MORAL MOTIVATION, as well as Baillie (2000), a more recent book-length treatment of Hume’s ethics, aimed at advanced undergraduates, and Cohon (2008), arguing against the standard interpretations of Hume as anticipating various views in contemporary metaethics—interpretations like Mackie’s. You can explore the connection between Hume and contemporary metaethics more in looking at NON-COGNITIVISM and QUASI-REALISM, MOTIVATIONAL INTERNALISM, and, especially, PRACTICAL REASONING. See also the papers by Radcliffe, Beauchamp, and Sturgeon in Part VI of Radcliffe, ed. (2008), and Railton’s paper in Copp. For discussion of Hume on justice, see Ch. 10 of Darwall (1995), a great book on the early modern debate about moral obligation. Lastly, if you’re thinking about the differences between Hume and Kant, Korsgaard’s (1989) paper, ‘Kant’s Analysis of Obligation: The Argument of Foundations I,’ listed as FURTHER READING for KANT on MORAL MOTIVATION, is a must-read. You might also try the debate between Kerstein and Blackburn in Dreier, ‘Are Moral Requirements Derived from Reason?’

Baillie, James (2000) Hume on Morality (Routledge).

Cohon, Rachel (2008) Hume's Morality: Feeling and Fabrication (OUP), esp. Part I.

Darwall, Stephen (1995) The British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought’: 1640-1740 (Cambridge UP).

Hume, David (1757) ‘Of the Standard of Taste’ from his Four Dissertations. Reprinted in various places, inc. his (2008) Selected Essays, ed. by Stephen Copley and Andrew Edgar (OUP).

Mackie, J. L. (John Leslie) (1980) Hume's Moral Theory (Routledge).

Norton, David Fate and Jacqueline Taylor, eds. (2009) The Cambridge Companion to Hume, 2nd ed. (Cambridge UP).

Radcliffe, Elizabeth S. ed. (2008) A Companion to Hume (Blackwell).

Russell, Paul, ed. (2016) The Oxford Handbook of Hume (OUP).

Stroud, Barry (1977) Hume (Routledge & Kegan Paul), Ch. 7 to 9.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

Can Hume explain why people should be motivated to act in accordance with ‘artificial’ virtues even when doing so is contrary to the general interest? (2021)

‘It’s true that reason is the slave of the passions, but it ought not to be.’ Discuss. (2020)

‘Rationality merely requires the efficient satisfaction of whatever it is that we ultimately want.’ Is that so? (2019)

EITHER
(a) ‘To be sure, it is not inconsistent or incoherent to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. But it is contrary to reason.’ Discuss.
OR
(b) ‘There is no imprudence more flagrant than that of Selfishness in the ordinary sense of the term.’ (SIDGWICK) Discuss. (2018)

7. VIRTUE ETHICS

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This week we return to the contemporary scene to look at virtue ethics. Drawing its inspiration from Aristotle, and emerging out of twentieth century criticism of consequentialism and deontology, it promises an interesting alternative to both. We’ll examine whether it can deliver on this promise.

ESSAY QUESTION

Are virtue ethicists right to make virtue fundamental in ethical theory?

CORE READING

*Hursthouse, Rosalind and Glenn Pettigrove (2003/16) ‘Virtue Ethics’ in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 edition).

Anscombe, G. E. M. (Elizabeth) (1958) ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ in Philosophy 33(124), pp. 1-19. Reprinted in her (1981) Collected Philosophical Papers, Volume 3: Ethics, Religion, and Politics (Blackwell), Cahn and Markie, and Crisp and Slote.

Hursthouse, Rosalind (1999) On Virtue Ethics (OUP), Ch. 1. Reprinted as ‘Virtue Ethics’ in Sher.

Hurka, Thomas (2001) Virtue, Vice, and Value (OUP), Ch. 8.

FURTHER READING

If you are planning on working on virtue ethics in more depth, Crisp and Slote is invaluable, collecting together various influential classics. Besides the Anscombe, see especially McIntyre’s ‘The Nature of the Virtues’, McDowell’s ‘Virtue and Reason’, and Foot’s ‘Virtues and Vices’, though Williams’ ‘Morality, the Peculiar Institution’, Stocker’s ‘The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories’, Wolf’s ‘Moral Saints’ (reprinted in Cahn and Markie, Shafer-Landau, and Sher), and Murdoch’s ‘The Sovereignty of the Good over Other Concepts’ are also influential classics from the 70s and early 80s, and very much worth reading. Much of this early work is broadly Aristotelian in outlook—Murdoch’s more Platonic approach is a rare exception—and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is essential reading, regardless of whether you plan on working on the topic in any depth, really. (Relevant extracts are reprinted in Cahn and Markie, Shafer-Landau, and Sher.) More recent work has developed alternative ways of thinking about virtue ethics. See, for example, the agent-based approach—influenced by Hume and other early modern sentimentalists—of Slote in his piece, ‘Agent-Based Virtue Ethics,’ in Crisp and Slote (and reprinted in Shafer-Landau,) and the pluralistic, target-centred approach presented in Swanton (2003). Many early virtue ethicists attacked the idea that moral deliberation could be understood in terms of a codifiable decision procedure—a theme that is especially prominent in McDowell and Williams, but which gave rise to the objection that virtue ethics is not action-guiding. Relatedly, it is objected that virtue ethics does not provide an adequate account of right action, failing either to correctly identify which acts are right in the first place, or to provide an adequate explanation of what makes them right. (Also related is the objection that virtue ethics entails a problematic MORAL RELATIVISM.) See Johnson (2003) and, for a reply, see Annas (2004). See also Brewer (2009), insisting such objections rest on an assumption about right, wrong, and obligation that the original virtue ethicists—especially Anscombe—were concerned to reject. Other objections to think about include the worry that virtue ethics is problematically self-effacing—see Keller (2007)—or egoistic—see Annas (2007). For some discussion of THE PARADOX of DEONTOLOGY relating to the latter worry, see LeBar (2009). Think also about the justification problem, how to justify claims about which traits are virtues, and the sceptical threat posed by results in social psychology that seem to show that there is no such thing as character traits, and so as virtues—the so-called situationist critique. The latter objection is pressed by Harman (1999), among others. For a reply to it, try Kamtekar (2004). You’ll also find good overviews of virtue ethics by Annas and Slote in Copp and LaFollette and Persson respectively, and a debate between Hursthouse and Driver about its prospects in Dreier.

Annas, Julia (2004) ‘Being Virtuous and Doing the Right Thing’ in Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 78, pp. 61–74. Reprinted in Cahn and Markie and Shafer-Landau.

— (2007) ‘Virtue Ethics and the Charge of Egoism’ in Paul Bloomfield, ed. Morality and Self-Interest (OUP).

Brewer, Talbot (2009) The Retrieval of Ethics (OUP).

Harman, Gilbert (1999) ‘Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology: Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error’ in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99, pp. 315–331.

Johnson, Robert (2003) ‘Virtue and Right’ in Ethics 113(4), pp. 810–834.

Kamtekar, Rachana (2004) ‘Situationism and Virtue Ethics on the Content of Our Character’ in Ethics 114(3), pp. 458–91.

Keller, Simon (2007) ‘Virtue Ethics Is Self-Effacing’ in Australasian Journal of Philosophy 85(2), pp. 221–31.

Lebar, Mark (2009) ‘Virtue Ethics and Deontic Constraints’ in Ethics 119(4), pp. 642–671.

Swanton, Christine (2003) Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View (OUP).

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

‘Virtue ethics is an attractive account of the value of acting virtuously, but it has nothing distinctive to say about moral obligation in particular.’ Discuss. (2021)

EITHER
(a) ‘Since virtues can conflict in difficult situations, virtue ethics cannot guide us in those circumstances in which we most need moral theory.’ Is that right? Does it tell against virtue ethics as a moral theory?
OR
(b) ‘It is virtuous to tell someone the truth because they deserve it; it is not that they deserve it because it is virtuous to tell them the truth.’ If that is true, would it be a problem for virtue ethics? (2020)

Are virtue ethicists committed to the view that those who find it easier to be good are more praiseworthy for being good? What does your answer imply about the plausibility of virtue ethics? (2019)

EITHER
(a) ‘Do we really want a moral theory to tell us what to do? Aren’t we losing an important sense in which we should be making our own decisions? Suppose I later come to think that what I did was actually the wrong thing to do … in the moral case there is surely something problematic in the thought that either I got the theory wrong or the theory was wrong, but there is no worry as to my making the wrong decision.’ (ANNAS) Is this a good defence of virtue ethics against the objection that it is not adequately action-guiding?
OR
(b) Can virtue ethicists make sense of the idea that the grounds of our duties to others are facts about those others? (2018)

8. CONTRACTUALISM

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We finish with a look at another form of nonconsequentialism: contractualism. The general idea goes back at least as far as Plato’s Republic, and was defended by Hobbes as well as more recent thinkers like Rawls. Contemporary discussion focuses mainly on a version articulated by Scanlon, as do we.

ESSAY QUESTION

Does Scanlon’s contractualism provide a compelling account of moral wrongness?

CORE READING

*Ashford, Elizabeth and Tim Mulgan (2007/18) ‘Contractualism’ in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 edition).

Scanlon, T. M. (Tim) (1998) What We Owe to Each Other (Harvard UP), Ch. 4 and 5. If you are pushed for time, focus for now on pp. 147-71 and pp. 229-41, and leave the rest for FURTHER READING.

Parfit, Derek (2003) ‘Justifiability to Each Person’ in Ratio 16(4), pp. 368-90. Reprinted in Philip Stratton-Lake, ed. (2004) On What We Owe to Each Other (Blackwell). Note that there is a misprint on p. 381 (p. 80 of the reprint): the numbers for Case Two should be 100, 100; 100, 90; and 0, 100.

Raz, Joseph (2022) ‘Normativity and the Other’ in his The Roots of Normativity, ed. by Ulrike Heuer (OUP). Preprint version: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3809623.

FURTHER READING

Scanlon first presented his contractualism in a (1982) paper, written whilst visiting Oxford. He continued a long and fruitful debate with Parfit, who was sympathetic to the position but argued we’d do better to drop aspects of Scanlon’s version of it. See, in addition to Parfit (2003), Scanlon’s reply in the same issue of Ratio, which is a special issue devoted to What We Owe To Each Other and reprinted as Stratton-Lake, ed. (2004). See also Ch. 15 and 17 of Parfit (2011a), listed above as FURTHER READING for THE PARADOX of DEONTOLOGY, in which he defends a variant form of contractualism (which he thinks coincides with both a kind of consequentialism and a kind of Kantianism). Then see Scanlon’s reply to the arguments of Parfit (2011a), ‘How I Am Not a Kantian,’ in Parfit (2011b), as well as Parfit’s own Ch. 21, 22, and 23. The latest instalments of the debate are in Stepanians and Frauchiger, eds. (2021), which includes Scanlon’s latest formulation of his views, ‘Contractualism and Justification,’ a critical paper by Parfit—sadly his last on the topic, delivered a few months before he died—and a reply from Scanlon. One of the main issues concerns the place of aggregation in contractualism. Recent work often focuses on the problems posed by cases involving risk. See Frick (2015), defending an ex ante solution. A related issue concerns demandingness. See Ashford (2003) and, for a reply discussing contractualism’s implications for non-human animals, Hills (2010). For work on contractualism and deontology, see Brand-Ballard (2004), and pp. 470-4 of Kamm (2007), listed as CORE READING for THE PARADOX of DEONTOLOGY. For more on the contractualist account of why we should be moral, see Scanlon (2008), esp. Ch. 4, listed in the FURTHER READING for THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE. Also relevant here is Lenman (2006). Lastly, for discussion of so-called redundancy objections to contractualism, see Southwood (2010).

Ashford, Elizabeth (2003) ‘The Demandingness of Scanlon’s Contractualism’ in Ethics 113(2), pp. 273–302.

Brand‐Ballard, Jeffrey (2004) ‘Contractualism and Deontic Restrictions’ in Ethics 114(2), pp. 269–300.

Frick, Johann (2015) ‘Contractualism and Social Risk’ in Philosophy and Public Affairs 43(3), pp. 175–223.

Hills, Alison (2010) ‘Utilitarianism, Contractualism and DemandingnessThe Philosophical Quarterly 60(239), pp. 225–242.

Lenman, James (2006) ‘Compatibilism and Contractualism: The Possibility of Moral Responsibility’ in Ethics 117(1), pp. 7–31.

Parfit, Derek (2011) On What Matters (OUP), Vol. 1, Ch. 15, and Vol. 2, Ch. 21 to 23.

Scanlon, T. M. (Tim) (1982) ‘Contractualism and Utilitarianism’ in Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams, eds. Utilitarianism and Beyond (Cambridge UP). Reprinted in his (2003) The Difficulty of Tolerance: Essays in Political Philosophy (Cambridge UP), Cahn and Markie, Shafer-Landau, and Sher.

Southwood, Nicholas (2010) Contractualism and the Foundations of Morality (OUP), Ch. 7.

Stepanians, Markus, and Michael Frauchiger, eds. (2021) Reason, Justification, and Contractualism (De Gruyter).

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

Are the objections to ‘common-sense’ moral principles that can be made by those in dire straits stronger than the objections to more demanding alternative principles that can be made by the better off? Discuss the implications of your answer for contractualism. (2021)

‘Contractualists tie the wrongness of an action to whether all principles for the general regulation of behavior which permit it can be reasonably rejected. However, whatever explains why those principles can be reasonably rejected can on its own explain why the action is wrong. So, contractualists should drop the talk about reasonable rejection and just talk about what makes actions right or wrong.’ Do you agree? (2020)

Does contractualism imply that we have no obligations to beings who do not understand what it means to enter into a contract? What does your answer imply about the plausibility of contractualism? (2019)

Can contractualists explain why, given the choice between saving one person from certain death and saving twenty others from certain death, you ought to save the twenty? (2018)

OTHER TOPICS: METAETHICS

1. MORAL REALISM

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Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

‘If it is a fact that a certain action would be good, a fact that you might or might not apply in deliberation, then it seems to be an open question whether you should apply it. So moral realism does not correctly capture the relation between the deliberative process and the normative standards to which action is subject.’ Is this argument against moral realism any good? (2021)

‘If we deny realism about moral facts, we must by parity of reasoning deny it about mathematical and epistemological facts. That would be unacceptable. So, we should not deny realism about moral facts.’ Is this a good argument? (2020)

EITHER
(a) Does moral realism predict that there should be more agreement about ethics than there is? What does your answer imply about the plausibility of moral realism?
OR
(b) ‘Morality is a useful fiction.’ Do you agree? (2019)

EITHER
(a) ‘Mixed normative facts [such as the fact that a particular consideration is a reason] depend on non-normative facts, and which non-normative facts they depend on is a normative matter, determined by the truth of pure normative claims. The truth of pure normative claims…does not depend on, or co-vary with, non-normative facts.’ (SCANLON) Does this solve the metaethical problem of supervenience for realists?
OR
(b) ‘We begin as (tacit) cognitivists and realists about ethics. … Moral Realism should be our metaethical starting point, and we should give it up only if it does involve unacceptable metaphysical and epistemological commitments.’ (BRINK) Discuss. (2018)

2. ERROR THEORY and FICTIONALISM

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Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

Can evolutionary debunking arguments in ethics be answered by appealing to evolutionary pressures that favour the capacity to make accurate moral judgments? (2021)

Do facts about evolution matter for an account of the nature of moral facts? (2020)

EITHER
(a) Does moral realism predict that there should be more agreement about ethics than there is? What does your answer imply about the plausibility of moral realism?
OR
(b) ‘Morality is a useful fiction.’ Do you agree? (2019)

Should we be worried that our capacity to make moral judgments is a product of natural selection? (2018)

3. NON-COGNITIVISM and QUASI-REALISM

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Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

EITHER
(a) Compare ‘Hirst has produced some bad art’ with ‘Hirst has done some bad things’. Can the non-cognitivist plausibly account for the fact that these express different kinds of normative judgment?
OR
(b) Should we analyse moral sentences on the model of pejoratives, as essentially involving both beliefs and non-cognitive attitudes? (2021)

Can a non-cognitivist think that she herself might be wrong about her most basic values? (2020)

Has the non-cognitivist anything plausible to say about what mental state is expressed by utterances of ‘If lying is wrong, then liars will be punished’? (2019)

How serious a problem is it for non-cognitivists that I can simultaneously feel positive and negative attitudes towards a single object? (2018)

4. NATURALISM and NON-NATURALISM

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Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

‘There is no sensible account of what it is to be a natural property such that anything of great philosophical significance turns on whether moral properties are natural or non-natural.’ Do you agree? (2019)

EITHER
(a) ‘Mixed normative facts [such as the fact that a particular consideration is a reason] depend on non-normative facts, and which non-normative facts they depend on is a normative matter, determined by the truth of pure normative claims. The truth of pure normative claims…does not depend on, or co-vary with, non-normative facts.’ (SCANLON) Does this solve the metaethical problem of supervenience for realists?
OR
(b) ‘We begin as (tacit) cognitivists and realists about ethics. … Moral Realism should be our metaethical starting point, and we should give it up only if it does involve unacceptable metaphysical and epistemological commitments.’ (BRINK) Discuss. (2018)

Supposing that utilitarianism is true, could we find out that utilitarianism is true in the same kind of way scientists found out that water is H2O? (2017)

‘There is no version of metaethical moral realism that can combine both metaphysical and epistemological plausibility, and so the realist project should be abandoned.’ Discuss. (2016)

5. MORAL RELATIVISM

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Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

Can a moral relativist give a compelling account of cross-cultural moral criticism? (2021)

EITHER
(a) If morality is relative to something, what is it relative to?
OR
(b) ‘If we’re cognitivists about ethics, we’ll have to be either realists or relativists.’ Do you agree? (2020)

What is the best objection to meta-ethical relativism? Does it succeed? (2019)

‘The community’s evaluative frame of reference is established by the drive toward sociality plus the shared ways of thinking, feeling, and acting to which members of the community are thereby drawn. Other communities have their own evaluative frames of reference, established by the same force drawing them toward other ways of thinking, feeling, and acting … Hence reasons are relative to a community.’ (VELLEMAN) Discuss. (2018)

OTHER TOPICS: REASONS and MOTIVES

1. PRACTICAL REASONING

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Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

‘If there are only internal reasons for action, then there is no external reason to want to know all the salient non-moral facts. But in that case, in failing to take account of one of those facts in practical deliberation one needn’t be making a mistake.’ Is this a good objection to internalism about normative reasons for action? (2021)

EITHER
(a) ‘As experience can reveal reasons to believe something for which I previously had absolutely no evidence, so it can reveal reasons to do something which I previously was utterly unmotivated to do.’ Is that true? If not, why not? If so, what does it imply about the internalism/externalism debate about reasons?
OR
(b) If an act is morally obligatory, does it follow that it would be irrational not to perform it? (2020)

EITHER
(a) Is motivational externalism committed to viewing good and strong-willed people as in the grip of moral fetishism? OR
(b) Could moral beliefs be intrinsically motivating? (2019)

‘The omnipresence of desires in action is misleading, for it suggests that a desire must form the basis of every motivation. But in fact … [the desire] may often be motivated by precisely what motivates the action.’ (NAGEL) Discuss. (2018)

2. MOTIVATIONAL INTERNALISM

TOP

Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

EITHER
(a) Is motivational externalism committed to viewing good and strong-willed people as in the grip of moral fetishism?
OR
(b) Could moral beliefs be intrinsically motivating? (2019)

‘The omnipresence of desires in action is misleading, for it suggests that a desire must form the basis of every motivation. But in fact … [the desire] may often be motivated by precisely what motivates the action.’ (NAGEL) Discuss. (2018)

‘It’s a happy accident that, if I come to believe that some act is wrong, a corresponding desire not to do that act invariably follows. And most people are like me in this respect.’ Is this an adequate account of moral motivation? (2017)

‘Evil, be thou my good’. Can motivational internalism make sense of this? (2016)

OTHER TOPICS: NORMATIVE ETHICS

1. WELL-BEING

TOP

Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

‘As a theory of which things make a person’s life go well, the objective list account is attractive. But, unlike its competitors, this account does not adequately explain what makes them good.’ Assess. (2021)

Does wanting something suffice to make it good for you to get it? (2020)

Does welfare consist in desire satisfaction? (2019)

Are objective list theories of well-being too insensitive to subjects’ attitudes to the items on the list? (2018)

2. EQUALITY

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION

Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

‘Unlike prioritarianism and sufficientarianism, egalitarianism can explain what’s bad about inequality.’ Is this a powerful argument for egalitarianism? (2021)

‘The important thing is not whether I have as much of some good as you but whether I have enough of it. Hence, equality is not in itself significant.’ Discuss. (2020)

‘Just as resources have diminishing marginal utility, so utility has diminishing marginal moral importance.’ (DEREK PARFIT) Does it? (2019)

‘The Levelling Down Objection to egalitarianism depends upon scepticism about impersonal value. Prioritarians are also committed to impersonal value. So the Levelling Down Objection does not favour prioritarianism over egalitarianism.’ Assess this argument. (2018)

‘When distributing benefits, we should aim for equality, not to make the outcome better, but for some other reason.’ Do you agree? (2017)

3. RIGHTS

TOP

Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

In what way are the duties imposed by rights distinctive? (2021)

Can there be a right to do wrong? (2020)

‘There is no need to postulate rights in addition to obligations.’ Is that correct? (2019)

Could someone be owed a duty to φ and yet have no right that the duty-bearer φ? (2018)

4. DOING and INTENDING HARM

TOP

Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

EITHER
(a) Can the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing be plausibly justified as a protection against morality’s problematically imposing upon agents?
OR
(b) Can the Trolley Problem be solved? (2018; SECTION B)

EITHER
(a) Is it ever permissible to kill an innocent bystander in self-defence?
OR
(b) Is it ever the case that an agent intends a harm if she views that harm as at best a regrettable necessity? What are the ethical implications of your answer? (2017)

‘The distinction between intended and foreseen but unintended consequences is real enough, but it cannot bear any moral weight.’ Discuss. (2012)

‘If you foresee killing some civilians as a side-effect of bombing a military factory, you thereby choose to kill and should be held responsible for your choice.’ Discuss. (2011)

OTHER TOPICS: MORAL PSYCHOLOGY

1. FREE WILL and MORAL RESPONSIBILITY

TOP

Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

‘We hold parents responsible for the behaviour of their children and leaders responsible for the behaviour of their followers. So we have no problem in principle with holding people responsible for what they do not control. Determinism is therefore no threat to the possibility of moral responsibility.’ Is this argument sound? (2021)

‘What matters for determining moral responsibility is why she did what she did, not whether she could have done something else.’ Is that right? (2020)

‘If a neuroscientist implanted electrodes in my brain and thereby induced in me attitudes that deterministically led me to wholeheartedly perform a certain crime, then she, and not I, would be morally responsible for the crime.’ Do you agree? What does your answer imply about the plausibility of compatibilism? (2019)

EITHER
(a) ‘The freedom discovered in reflection is not a theoretical property which can also be seen by scientists considering the agent’s deliberations third-personally and from outside. It is from within the deliberative perspective that we see our desires as providing suggestions which we may take or leave.’ (KORSGAARD) Discuss.
OR
(b) ‘Arguments for compatibilism based on Frankfurt-style cases face a dilemma. If the inevitability of the agent’s action given the “prior sign” is grounded in causal determinism, then the question is begged against the incompatibilist. But if we eliminate the causal determination then the agent has robust alternative possibilities after all.’ Discuss. (2018)

2. CONSCIENCE, GUILT, and SHAME

TOP

Coming soon.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS

Is guilt merely a subspecies of shame? (2021)

‘I’ll feel guilty whatever I do.’ Assume that there are situations where this can be true: does it follow that guilt is irrelevant to morality? (2020)

Is there any truth in Nietzsche’s suggestion that bad conscience is ‘cruelty turned back on itself’? (2018)

Is shame essentially bound up with the internalisation of another’s point of view? If it is, does that provide a reason to be suspicious of shame? (2017)