Challenges to Traditional Morality

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1 Challenges to Traditional Morality

2 Altruism Behavior that benefits others at some cost to oneself and that is motivated by the desire to benefit others

3 Some Ordinary Assumptions About Morality (1) People sometimes behave altruistically. (2) We sometimes have an obligation to behave altruistically.

4 Challenges to These Assumptions (PE) Psychological Egoism: All human actions are motivated (and can only be motivated) by selfish desires or self-interest. (EE) Ethical Egoism: We ought to pursue only our own self-interest.

5 Psychological vs. Ethical Egoism PE is a descriptive (non-normative) claim. EE is a prescriptive (normative) claim. But if ought implies can, then PE implies that no ethical theory other than EE can be true.

6 Gyges Ring (pp.497-8) Thought experiment: imagine a ring that could make its wearer invisible. Now suppose that a decent man and a bad man each get a hold of one of these rings. There s no question that the bad man will use the ring to commit crimes with impunity. Will the decent man do the same? (What does Glaucon say?) Should he do the same? (Glaucon s view?)

7 Two Versions of PE Weak PE (about valuing): The only thing we value (or can value) for its own sake is the satisfaction of our own interests. Strong PE (just about motivation): Our selfinterest is always at least a necessary part of the motive behind our actions; if it were absent, we wouldn t act. Which one is Feinberg concerned with?

8 Psychological Egoistic Hedonism (PEH) More specific version of PE Claims that all human actions are (& can only be) motivated by the desire for one s own pleasure Like PE, PEH has a strong and a weak form. Can you state each one? Feinberg considers two main arguments for PEH.

9 One Argument for PEH (P) We get pleasure from performing apparently unselfish acts. (C) Therefore our motivation for performing such acts is really the pleasure we receive from them.

10 Objections? Is the premise true? Feinberg doesn t think so. Can you come up with a counterexample? Even if the premise is true, does the conclusion necessarily follow? (I.e., is the argument valid?) Again, Feinberg thinks not. Why?

11 A Second Argument for PEH (P) The only way to teach people to do right and refrain from doing wrong is by rewarding them with pleasure and punishing with pain. (C) Therefore, the only motivation people have is to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

12 Assessing the Second Argument for PEH How does Feinberg reply to this argument? (See 482.) How strong is his reply? Can you think of other objections to the argument?

13 Three Arguments Against PEH (1) Lincoln Story (2) Hedonist Paradox (3) Two Meanings of Pleasure

14 Lincoln Story How does Lincoln explain his own motive for saving the pigs? Why does Feinberg think that Lincoln must be wrong? Thought experiment: what would Lincoln say if he were offered an amnesia pill? What does this suggest about strong PEH? What do you think he would say if we made him take a pleasure-erasing pill before saving the pigs? What does this suggest about weak PEH?

15 Hedonist Paradox (HP) HP: If you aim exclusively at pleasure itself pleasure will never come. An argument based on HP (P1) Suppose that we only desired our own pleasure. (PEH) (P2) If we only desired our own pleasure, we would never gain any pleasure. (HP) (P3) But we do gain pleasure. (C) Therefore, PEH cannot be true.

16 Two Meanings of Pleasure (P1) Pleasure must mean either (a) pleasant physical sensations or (b) desire-fulfillment. (P2) If pleasure means (a), then PEH is implausible. (Why?) (P3) If pleasure means (b), then PEH is confused. (Why?) (C) Therefore, PEH is untenable.

17 An Argument for PE (though not PEH specifically) (P) Every desire that a person has is that person s desire (i.e., it originates in himself). (C) Therefore, every desire that an agent has is a selfish desire.

18 Objections & Replies Objection #1: Conclusion doesn t follow from the premise. Just because a desire originates in me doesn t mean that it s a selfish desire (i.e., that the desire aims at my own benefit). PE s Reply: Conclusion does follow from the premise because what it means for my motives to be selfish is that those motives are mine; they originate in me. Objection #2: If so, then PE isn t an empirical claim. (What does this mean?) PE s Reply: PE isn t supposed to be an empirical claim. Objection #3: Then what s the use of it?

19 Rachels on Ethical Egoism I suggest we distinguish: Ethical Egoism: Each person ought to pursue his self-interest exclusively. Genuine altruism is irrational. Ethical Minimalism: It s always permissible to pursue one s own self-interest, but it s equally permissible, rational, and often good to be genuinely altruistic. (It s just not required; it s supererogatory.)

20 Three Arguments for EE (1) If everyone pursues her own self-interest, society will be better off. (2) Ayn Rand s argument: EE is the only philosophy that properly respects the value of the individual. (3) Ethical Egoism underlies commonsense morality. The reason a person is obligated not to lie, cheat, steal, etc. is that doing these things would be harmful to himself.

21 Argument (1) for EE (P) Everyone will be better off if we all just look out for ourselves. (C)Therefore, we should all just look out for ourselves. Questions: Is the premise true? Can you think of a counterexample? Is there a hidden premise here? What is it?

22 Argument (2) for EE Source: Ayn Rand. (See, e.g., Atlas Shrugged.) The argument: (P1) Our choice is between EE and the morality of sacrifice, which calls on us to sacrifice our own good for the good of others. (P2) The highest goal for humans is to perfect one s own abilities. (P3) The morality of sacrifice is incompatible with this goal. (C)Therefore, we should reject the morality of sacrifice and choose EE instead. Problems: False dichotomy: there are other alternatives than the two Rand describes. Straw man: no significant philosopher has ever endorsed what Rand calls the morality of sacrifice

23 Argument (3) for EE (P) To do what commonsense morality demands is always to do what is in your own best interest. (C) EE is therefore the source of our commonsense moral obligations. Possible objections: Premise does not hold true in all cases. Can you think of a situation in which it doesn t pay to do the right thing? Conclusion doesn t follow from the premise. Even if doing what commonsense morality demands always benefited us, it wouldn t follow that the reason it is right to do the what commonsense morality demands is that it is right to do what benefits us. Cf. the pleasure effect argument for PE.

24 Some Arguments Against EE (1) Inconsistent Outcomes Argument (2) No Relevant Differences Argument (3) Paradox of Egoism (4) Argument from Counterintuitive Consequences N.B. (3) & (4) are not discussed in Rachels article.

25 Inconsistent Outcomes Argument Imagine that you and I are eating pizza. There s only one slice left and we re both still hungry. EE will say that you are obligated to take the last piece and prevent me from getting it. At the same time, according to EE, I am obligated to try to get the last piece and I should do what I can to prevent you from getting it. This may seem to be a problem for at least two reasons: (a) It may seem that by recommending inconsistent outcomes, EE fails to fulfill a necessary function of any moral theory-- namely, that it give us a way to resolve conflicts. (b)it may seem logically inconsistent to say that it is both right for me to try to get the piece of pizza and right for you to try to get the piece of pizza.

26 How the Egoist can reply: To (a): A moral theory need not provide a way of resolving conflicts. It is more like the Commissioner of Boxing than a courtroom judge. To (b): There s no logical inconsistency here. Again, this is easy to see if we think of the situation as akin to a competitive sports event or chess match, in which we believe all the contestants have a right to try to win. By the way, to say that it is right for both me and you to try to get the last piece of pizza is not the same as saying that it is both right and wrong for me to try to get the last piece of pizza. It is only right--not wrong.

27 No Relevant Differences Argument (P1) It is right to value the interests of some groups more than others only if there is some relevant factual difference between the members of the two groups. (P2) There is no relevant factual difference between oneself and others. (C) Therefore, contra EE, it is not right to value one s own interests more than others.

28 Assessing the NRD Argument Rachels thinks this argument comes closest to an outright refutation of Ethical Egoism. Question: Does the argument prove too much? Rachels seems to assume that the only morally relevant differences are intrinsic differences. But aren t there some groups of people (e.g., our family) whose interests we ought to value more than others, but who don t differ from us with respect to any intrinsic properties?

29 Paradox of Egoism (P1) EE says that we are always obligated to do what is in our best self-interest. (P2) It is in the the everyone s best interest to experience true friendship. (P3) True friendship requires genuine altruism--that is, caring about another s interests for their own sake. (C) Therefore, EE is paradoxical, because it tells us both that we should never behave altruistically and that we should sometimes behave altruistically. How might the Egoist reply to this argument?

30 Argument from Counterintuitive Consequences (P1) According to EE, I would be wrong to do anything that I have nothing to gain from, including making an effort to preserve the environment for future generations and saving all of Europe from destruction by pushing a button. (P2) But clearly there is nothing wrong with doing these things. (C ) Therefore, EE entails unacceptable consequences. How is the Egoist likely to respond to this? Even if this argument does pose a threat to Ethical Egoism, it doesn t threaten Ethical Minimalism.

31 The Difficulty of Answering the Egoist The challenge of Egoism amounts to the question, Why be moral? (This is the essence of Glaucon s challenge to Socrates in Republic II, and Plato spends the remainder of this famous dialogue trying to answer it.) To give an answer to this question that would satisfy the Egoist, we would need to explain how it is profitable to be moral. But, according to some philosophers, even if we could give such an explanation, it wouldn t convince the Egoist that he ought to be moral; it would only make him want to be moral. Thus, some philosophers think the question is simply wrongheaded. There is no further reason why we are morally obligated to do certain things, so it is pointless to ask for such a reason.

32 Two Skeptical Accounts of the Origins of Morality (1) Glaucon s Social Contract Theory (2) Nietzsche s Geneology of Morals

33 Background to Glaucon s Account: The Prisoner s Dilemma Scenario: You and your neighbor have been arrested, charged with a crime, and taken to separate rooms for questioning. (It doesn t really matter whether you re innocent or guilty, but assume you re both innocent.) You each have two options, and no way of knowing which option the other has chosen: you can either keep mum or betray your neighbor and say that he did it while maintaining that you re innocent. There are three possible outcomes: (1) one of you betrays while the other keeps mum; (2) both of you betray; (3) both of you keep mum. The result of (1) is that the betrayer goes free while the betrayed gets two years in prison. The result of (2) is that both of you get one year in prison. The result of (3) is that both of you will be given a $500 fine. These results are summarized in the following chart.

34 Your Neighbor Keep Mum Betray You Keep Mum Betray You: $500 fine Neighbor:$500 fine You: Go free Neighbor: 2 years in prison You: 2 years in prison Neighbor: Goes free You: 1 year in prison Neighbor: 1 year in prison

35 Assume the following preferences: 1: Go free 2: $500 fine 3: 1 year in prison 4: 2 years in prison Question: What is the purely self-interestedly rational thing for each of you to do? What will the result be if both of you choose this course of action? How could you both get a better result?

36 Now consider how a parallel situation might arise in a social context: suppose you and your neighbor are in a state of nature, and a situation arises where each of you will have the opportunity to take something valuable from the other. Assume the following preferences: 1: You take your neighbor s stuff and keep your own. 2: You both keep your own stuff. 3: You take your neighbor s stuff but lose your own. (Worse than 2 because violating others doesn t make up entirely for the injury of being violated oneself.) 4: You lose your own stuff and get nothing in return. The following chart summarizes the possibilities.

37 Your Neighbor You Refrain Take Refrain You: 2 Neighbor: 2 You: 4 Neighbor: 1 Take You: 1 Neighbor: 4 You: 3 Neighbor: 3 What is the rational thing for each of you to do? What will the outcome be if both of you choose this course of action? How could you improve on this outcome?

38 Glaucon s Account of the Origins of Morality According to Glaucon, justice (=morality) is a set of rules that people agree to follow in order to avoid the worst outcome--suffering injustice and not committing it. While being just allows us to move up the ladder of preferences, however, it does not get us the best outcome, which is to commit injustice without suffering it in return. On this account, what reason do we have to be just if we can get away with injustice?

39 Some Background to Nietzsche One of philosophy s greatest polemicists. Some recommended reading: Beyond Good and Evil, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Geneology of Morals Alleged association with Nazis: It s easy to see how any ambitious nationalistic movement might ve taken inspiration from N s writings, but there s nothing in N that supports the specific anti-semitic program of the Nazis. N on women: N s writings are notoriously misogynistic; it s probably safe to ignore everything N says about women.

40 Nietzsche s Project responding to a society that he thinks has become unanimous in all major moral judgments, which to his mind include an opposition to any special claims, special rights, or privileges, a mistrust of punitive justice, a hatred against suffering and exploitation basically, the fundamental principles of modern liberal democratic society and Judeo-Christian ethics. argues (1) that these attitudes and beliefs represent only one among many possible forms of morality, and (2) that they represent an unhealthy, degenerate form of morality. attempts to make both these points by giving a geneology of morals that is, by unearthing the historical origins of modern morality. finds that there has been a value inversion at some point in history calls for a revaluation of values.

41 Master Morality vs. Slave Morality originates in the dominant class i.e., the elite, the aristocracy based on an opposition between good and bad, where good = noble and arises out of admiration for the excellence of the elite, and bad = despicable and designates those who are mediocre and weak in contrast to the elite values pride, hardness, devotion to one s own friends and family; disdains selflessness, pity, impartiality originates in the oppressed class, the herd based on an opposition between good and evil, where the idea of evil arises out of resentment and fear of the elite, and attaches to those qualities that are regarded as good by the master morality. (This is the inversion of values that N talks about.) Good, meanwhile, designates those qualities that are useful in alleviating the pain of the herd s existence. values pity, humility, freedom; condemns suffering, inequality, exploitation

42 Conclusions Is there an argument in all this? If so, what might it look like? Questions to consider: Is there some form of egalitarian society in which great men and great achievements can be realized? Is the kind of exploitation and power disparities that Nietzsche celebrates really necessary for excellence and achievement? Can there be flourishing without exploitation?

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