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Suppose that you believe in determinism, how could you live with that? Sometimes everything seems clearly determined by circumstances (science...), but it's hard to believe that someone who has murdered someone is not really guilty - 'it's the just the circumstances that influenced him to do such an act'. Or is there some kind of determinism where it is possible to be guilty? I hope you can help me out here.

It is an open (and contentious) philosophical question whether determinism entails that we are not morally responsible for what we do. Many philosophers (the majority, I would guess) actually believe that moral responsibility is perfectly compatible with determinism. For such philosophers (often called compatibilists ), whether you are blameworthy does not depend on whether the causal chain leading up to your action can be traced back to events that seem to have nothing to do with choices you've made. (After all, if determinism is true, all of your actions have such external causal origins.) Instead, according to compatibilists, whether you are blameworthy is a function of the particular shape that the causal chain leading up to your action takes. Of course, different compatibilists identify different features of the causal chain as the relevant ones, but they all agree that my action's being determined by antecendent events does not settle the question of whether I am morally responsible for...

I'm trying to wrap my head around the concept of granting charity, and I can't seem to form this is one question. So, I'm going to ask a bunch of related questions: - At what point does continually asking for charitable contributions become mooching (e.g., if I ask you for $5 for lunch two days in a row, is that mooching? if I ask you every day for a 2 weeks in a row, is that mooching?) ? - Are there different thresholds for different situations (e.g., a stranger on the street asking for money for a few weeks in a row v. a family member asking for money for a few years in a row)? What factors go into setting this threshold? - Does the person asking for charity have a responsibility to act appropriately (e.g., a homeless person asking for charity should be looking for a job)? - Does the person granting charity have any say in the conduct of life of the person asking for charity (e.g., a family member asking constantly asking for money to be sent is living is a depressed city, can the family...

Many of your questions don't have easy answers. Let me address one that does seem to have an easy answer. I don't think that the distinction between charity and mooching has anything to do with how frequently one asks for help. What marks the distinction is whether help is in needed . If you can't afford a proper lunch for yourself, then even if you ask me for money twenty days in a row you aren't mooching. If, on the other hand, you're asking for money because you don't like what you brought for lunch and instead want to go out (or because you can't be bothered to make lunch for yourself), then I would say you're mooching.

Is it wrong to do a good deed in order to alleviate your unease about a different bad deed? I support making animal slaughter more humane. But perhaps this is inconsistent of me, because (as a vegetarian) I still think it's wrong to slaughter an animal humanely -- and if animals had to be slaughtered cruelly, maybe people would confront the problem and the practice of slaughtering would end.

I don't see any inconsistency here. Even if one believes that it is wrong to slaughter animals humanely, one might also believe that to slaughter them inhumanely is to commit a far greater and more serious wrong. So, if you believe that people are not going to stop slaughtering animals any time soon, then it seems perfectly reasonable for you to support making animal slaughter more humane. The last point you raise does complicate matters a bit. If it were true that animals had to be slaughtered inhumanely and that confronting the problem of inhumane slaughtering would lead people to oppose the practice of slaughtering altogether, then that might be a reason for you not to support the practice of humane slaughtering. But I don't think it is the case that animals have to be slaughtered cruelly, and your opposition to even humane slaughtering will not make it the case.

Do we have a duty to take care of relatives (who are unable to take care of themselves) or does this duty fall on the state?

Your brief question encompasses a number of different controversial issues. Let me set aside the issue of the state and focus instead on the question of your obligations to your family members. If you do have a duty to take care of your relatives, I don't think that the source of this duty is the mere fact that they are your relatives (except when it comes to your children). In other words, the mere fact that someone is your mother does not make it the case that you have a duty to take care of her. However, from the fact that your biological connection with your mother does not by itself give rise to any obligations on your part it does not follow that you are under no such obligation. After all, your relationship with her is probably not exhausted by your blood tie. Hopefully, you also have a personal and familial relationship with her. And if you do have a relationship with her that is more than genetic--if, in other words, she is a regular part of your life and you are regular part of hers--then...

Imagine this situation. For some reason, Jack knows that by committing suicide in a very painful way, he can make Jill a little bit happier. Jack wants to do this. In a few minutes we will have our memories erased of this situation & Jack will continue to live a happy life. Now I have control over whether I allow Jack to go through with the suicide. What is the moral thing for me to do? On the one hand, if I let him commit suicide, there will be less net happiness (Jack suffers much while Jill gains little) but more preferences satisfied (one). On the other hand, if I prevent him from doing so, there will be more net happiness (Jack much more happy, Jill a bit worse off) but less preferences satisfied (one less). I suppose this is a complicated way of asking which is more important (or which is important full stop)- preference satisfaction or happiness? I'm not entirely sure why, but I wanted to illustrate the question in this way, even if it is a little confusing! Worth a shot. Thanks, Holly M.

There are a number of challenging issues here, in part because there are a number of different ways in which things (such as happiness or the satisfaction of preferences) can be important. One way in which such things can be important is by contributing to an individual's well-being (that is, by making a person's life go better for that person ). So, you might be asking the following question: In what does a person's well-being consist, happiness or the satisfaction of desires (or preferences)? The answer might be: Neither! Of course there are plenty of philosophers who defend desire-satisfaction theories of well-being, and there are also a few who defend hedonistic theories (according to which well-being consists in being happy). But there are also views according to which well-being is a function of having certain objective goods--friendship, knowledge, health, and so forth--regardless of whether one wants these goods and regardless of whether these goods make one happy. If you're interested in...

Is the use of torrent sites to download TV shows wrong? Or is it OK on the grounds that it makes a stand against the invasive advertising techniques used on television?

The "invasive advertising techniques used on television" would make torrenting TV shows justifiable only if we had some sort of right to watch these shows without advertising. But I don't think we have such a right. TV shows are produced or purchased by networks at some cost, and they recoup that cost (and earn a profit) by selling time for advertisements. That you dislike or even disapprove of these advertisements doesn't give you the right to make use of their products in ways that the networks oppose. They own the shows, and thus they can determine the conditions under which they are broadcast. If you want to take a stand against advertising, don't watch the TV shows at all. Or just buy them on DVD. That way you can pay for them without submitting yourself to those invasive advertising techniques.

Do very large corporations have a duty to be ethical and to involve themselves in charity? Is the duty of a pharmaceutical company which makes life-saving drugs more than the duty of a company which produces 'unnecessary' items, like a company that produces sparkly party hats, even if both are the same size, make the same profit, etc?

This is an interesting question. Actually, I think you're asking two different questions here: (1) Do corporations have a duty to behave in an ethical manner, and (2) Does ethical behavior necessarily involve charity? The answer to the first question is certainly that corporations do have a duty to behave ethically. They have duties, for instance, not to include false or misleadings statements in their advertisements, not to use harmful chemicals in their products (whether these products are life-saving drugs or sparkly party hats), not to contaminate the water supply, and so forth. The second question is more difficult. After all, ethical theorists disagree about whether and to what extent individuals have a positive duty to give to charity (or, more generally, to be beneficent). And even if you're convinced that individuals do have such a duty, that hardly settles the question of whether corporations have one as well. I tend to favor utilitarian or consequentialist moral theories. A...

What is a definition of good and also what would a definition of evil or bad be?

At the turn of the last century, G.E. Moore famously argued that the word "good" can't be defined. Goodness, according to Moore, is simple and (hence) undefinable.The same might be true of the word "value" and its cognates. Of course, there are some definitions that promise to be relatively uncontroversial. We mightsay, for example, that something is good if, and only if, it is worth pursuing or promoting. Alternatively, we might say that something is good if, and only if, we have a reason to pursue or promote or desire it. Both of these definitions are at least prima facie plausible, but they are also rather uninformative. By asserting that "xis good means the same as "x is worth pursuing," we have merelysubstituted one phrase in need of definition for another. That is, theterms "worth" and "reason" seem to be just as mysterious asthe word they are supposed to replace: "good." This suggests that we need to look for a more substantivedefinition. Moore, however, claimed that more...

Recently, my stepsons' mother told my husband and me that her husband has been hurting her children (my stepsons). The last incident (the worst, she said) involved him "spanking" the youngest hard enough to leave a long bruise and picking them both up by the head, shaking them and screaming into their faces. He has a long history with CPS and I have spoken with his ex-wife who believes he has been molesting her daughter, as well as abusing her daughter and son (the reason she divorced him). The boys' mother seemed very concerned at first, using terms like "It's a deal-breaker. He can't beat my kids," but has changed her tune to "God made marriage first and children second, so I have to stand by my husband. Children leave you, a spouse is forever." My husband and I have contacted CPS and all have been interviewed. CPS said that they have determined abuse has taken place, but it doesn't look like they are going to do much about it. All that has been done so far is the boys' mother and stepfather have...

You ask two questions: 1. As a concerned stepparent, do I have anobligation to do more than has been done regardless of my husband'spreference to let it go? 2. Would it be more harmful to them to try toremove their stepfather from their lives, or to hope that he can learn(at age 45) to control his temper? The second question is not an ethical or philosophical question. Rather, it is an empirical question that requires the expertise of a social worker who is familiar with the details of the situation. In response to the first question, I would say that you do have an obligation to do more, at least if you have good reason to believe that the boys are in danger. Moreover, I think that this obligation overrides any sort of obligation you have to respect the wishes of your spouse.

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