Suppose I am closed in a room with an unconscious man who drank too much. It is a hot day and I try to keep the window open, to get some air, but it does not stay so. Case 1: I use this man's body (one of his feet) to prevent the window from getting closed. Case 2: I get sexually aroused and I have sex with this man. In both cases, he does not wake up, and he gets some bruises from my acting, but he comes to know what I did only some days later. Morally speaking, it seems that what I did in Case 1 was a minor offence (if it is an offence at all), but what I did in Case 2 was a serious crime, it was rape. But what difference between the cases justifies these different moral judgments? In both cases I used a man as a tool to advance my interests, I did something that he would probably not want, and I caused him some bruises. The difference, I suppose, is that he would *see* or *feel* that my action in Case 2 was more serious, more offensive. And that "society" would see or feel the same. But, morally...

You ask: "morally speaking, can my action BE more serious or offensive only because other people see it so? Suppose there was someone weird enough to think that your sleeping man would be indifferent between having his feet used to prop a window open and being raped in his sleep. And to make things clearer, suppose this person thinks that the sleeping man wouldn't mind either. It's hard to imagine the psychology of such a person, and may not even be clear if he would be a competent moral agent, but set that aside. What should we say? Perhaps we would say that we shouldn't judge this person more harshly for doing one of these things rather than the other. No harm was meant; it's just that the person was massively, unimaginably clueless. This would be someone we should keep close watch over; if they actually carried out the rape, we would be fully justified in confining them in some way. We might abstain from moral judgments about the person himself, but there's another question we can ask: if the...

I've been having a moral conflict about whether I should serve in the military or not and I came to the conclusion that it would be immoral for me to serve. But then I thought to myself, if I think it's immoral to serve I'm basically saying that anyone with the choice to not serve shouldn't serve, and if everyone who has the choice to not serve does that the military will collapse and since the country has no defenses a war will likely ensue that would cause many more deaths than if people had served. So does that falsify my claim that it is immoral to serve in the military?

You've given an apparently powerful reason for thinking that it's morally acceptable to have a military to defend the nation: lives will be saved. You've implicitly cast this in terms of defense. That is, you've implicitly offered a justification for having an army by appeal to the right of a nation to defend its citizens. It's plausible that having no military would lead to more deaths than having one. And it's morally plausible that people—and nations—have a right to self-defense. And so this raises an obvious question: what reasons are left for thinking that military service is immoral? There may be reasons. But you've shifted the burden onto yourself. If you want your view to be taken seriously, then you have to say more. If you leave the argument where it is, then you're open to the charge that you hold your position in bad faith. Are there reasons to the contrary? You could try to show that having armies leads in the long run to more deaths. Or you could try to argue that it's always wrong to...

There have been some excellent questions about whether moral claims can be objectively true or not. Isn't there an unspoken presupposition to that argument, however? "Moral claims can only exist in situations where there are beings who are subject to morality present in the first place." or perhaps you can word it better to capture what I am trying to say. In other words, if there were no sentient beings, then the concept of morality could not even exist, as only sentient beings are capable of moral reflection in the first place.

True: only sentient beings can think about moral questions, and so moral questions don't arise in a world with no sentient (or better, sapient) beings. Of course, in one sense of "arise," no questions arise unless there are creatures who can ponder the questions. Nonetheless, that doesn't make the way things are depend on the existence of thinking beings. There were electrons before we came on the scene, and there would be electrons even if neither we nor any creatures like us had existed. That said, you're right: moral matters have an intrinsic connection with beings who can ponder them. There are no live moral issues in a lifeless world, nor even in one with sentient but no sapient creatures. Moral truths are truths about how certain kinds of creature should behave if there were any. But this is consistent with there being moral truths even if nothing in the world knows those truths and even if none of the relevant kinds of creatures exist. Thus, one might say (I would) that before any thinking...

An inventor creates a life-saving drug for disease X, which has no other cure. Worldwide, death by disease X among white people has been eliminated because of his drug; however, the death rate remains at pre-drug levels among non-whites because he has contractually restricted its sale and use to white people. For non-whites who die from disease X, is this inventor a causal factor in their death? My friend and I have debated this. I argue YES. The actions the inventor has taken to restrict the sale of his drug demonstrate intent with full knowledge of the consequences of the actions he has taken. I think his actions are not only causal, but in a world where this medicine is readily available everywhere, he becomes the primary cause of death. My friend argues NO. The inventor has done nothing with respect to non-whites. There is no causal relationship. Pulling a man from a burning building saves a life, but not doing so doesn't cause a death. Where I see actions that cause harm, my friend sees...

As you've described the case, there's something the inventor could do that would save lives. There's also a dispute about how to analyze the notion of a cause. Some would say (your friend apparently is in this camp) that absences—in the case, not doing something—can't be causes. Others disagree and provide accounts that allow absences to be causal. This is an abstract and complicated issue, but how much difference will it make to how we judge the inventor? Suppose I'm in a war zone and happen to know that there's an IED in a certain spot. I see someone running on a path that will take him over the IED and almost certainly leave him dead. Let's assume I even know who it is and know that in all relevant respects, he's an innocent. As it happens, I'm behind a barrier, but I could easily warn him. I don't. He runs over the IED and dies in the blast. Is there something I could have done that would have saved him? We've already said yes. Would it have come at any significant cost? We can stipulate for...

Hello philosophers in a recent debate I was involved in a theist stated “For morality to be objective, moral propositions such as "Killing is bad","Stealing is bad", etc... need to be true independently of the person who is stating them. “ I countered “That is the way this position is normally put but a problem arises as in if there are objective moral facts how would we know this to be the fact? To know something is an objective moral fact only needs an agent to know this , how can a moral fact be known independent of a human mind to decide?” Is my position logically sound or are there problems with my reply?

I think your counterargument is conflating issues that need to be kept distinct. Your interlocutor ((I'll call him or her your friend) said, correctly, that if morality is objective, the truth of moral claims doesn't depend on the person who makes them. That seems fine. To say that something is objectively true is to say that it's true whether or not anyone believes it. Your response was to ask how we could know that there are objective moral facts, if there really are. But that's a separate issue, and in fact it has nothing in particular to do with moral claims. If there are objective facts about what's going on now (say, in the Earth's frame of reference) in some remote part of the universe, then those facts are facts whether or not we could ever be in a position to know them. Whether X is mind-independently true and whether anyone is in a position to know that X is true are different matters. You ask: "how can a moral fact be known independent of a human mind to decide?" That's...

By what definition, and extent, and to what purpose do we as humans classify the idea and act of murder as evil? To most people I ask this question seems ludicrous and the answer alarmingly obvious, but I have yet to understand why we identify this occurrence as ‘evil.’ I can understand that the intent of murder and its outcome can result in a way that selfishly benefits the murderer at such a terrible cost, and I can understand that the action of taking someone’s life is just as cruel to the deceased as it is to the people that knew and loved that victim, but it seems hypocritical to me that we as a society generalize the idea of killing as evil when relatively many of us favor capital punishment, strong military, and, at least in fiction, vigilante justice. We send men and women to violent battlefields yet, before they leave, indoctrinate the poor souls into thinking that the very act of murder is evil just by itself. They come back scarred because of this. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto...

Well, we think that murder is wrong, and that it's often (usually?) not just wrong but very wrong—wrong enough to count as evil. Robbing someone of their purse is bad; robbing them of the life is worse. What you say you don't understand is why we count murder as (typically? often? almost always?) evil in spite of the fact that we think killing isn't always wrong. You see some sort of hypocrisy here. But why? After all: not all killing is wrong. The obvious example: killing in self-defense, which I hope we can agree is morally acceptable in a way that murder isn't. Even more so: killing by a police officer to protect the life of an innocent person threatened by an assailant. Capital punishment is a harder case. I think it's wrong, but I don't think people who believe otherwise are therefore morally blind. War is complicated business, but there's a case to be made that going to war is at least sometimes morally acceptable too. The place where what you're saying seems to miss the mark is here: it...

Hi! I was wondering if I could ask a few moral questions related to Brett Kavanaugh. 1. Is it morally bad to profit from a crime; and, if so, why? It seems to me that most traditional moralities seem to proscribe against acts (like "Thou shalt not murder"), and sometimes against the emotional motivation for acts (greed, lust, pride), but that they aren't focused on the consequences of acts. It also seems to me that act utilitarianism wouldn't regard profiting from a crime as bad per se. If anything, the resulting happiness is a good: it's just that it needs to be weighed together with the resulting suffering. 2. In the case of Brett Kavanaugh, let's assume: (a) that he did commit assaults while drunk 40 years ago; and (b) that, after college, he went on to lead an unimpeachable life. In this scenario, would the assaults then constitute a moral reason not to confirm him to the Supreme Court? What does the panel make of the following claims? -- (a) He's a different person now, so there is no moral...

You ask if it's morally bad to profit from a crime. Since the answer seems pretty clearly to be yes, I'm a bit unsure what would count for you as saying why, but let's try an example: Robin's spouse carries a large life insurance policy. Robin kills him—a morally bad thing, I hope you'll agree—and then gets the payout from the policy, thereby profiting from the crime. Sounds bad to me. Consider two cases. (1) someone commits a crime—a theft, let's say— but they do it in order to help some desperate but otherwise innocent person. (2) Someone commits the same crime, but they do it simply because they want the money, which in fact they manage to get away with keeping and using. Most of us would say that the first case is less egregious, the wrongdoer of less bad character, and the act more forgivable. Is there a deeper explanation? More than one, no doubt. If my profit flows from a crime, then I don't deserve the benefit I got, and we care about whether people deserve what they're getting. Also, if we...

Is it ethical to favour one soccer team over another?

The answer is surely that it's not unethical or wrong or immoral to favor one team over another. But there's an interesting issue in the background. At least some views of what morality calls for say that we should be impartial. If I'm a utilitarian, then everyone's pleasure and pain count equally. If I'm a Kantian, then I should act only on maxims that I could will to be universal laws. But in that case, it seems, I can't favor particular people—or particular sports teams. Whether this is really what utilitarianism or Kantianism call for, this would be crazy. It's also an issue that comes up in an important essay by the British philosopher Bernard Williams ("Persons, Character and Morality," 1976.) Toward the end of the essay, he considers a hypothetical raised by another philosopher, Charles Fried. Fried imagines a man who is in a position to save one of two people, one of whom is his wife. Fried is clear that it should be acceptable for the man to save his wife instead of the stranger. But Williams...

Do people owe a debt for investments made in them which they never had an option to refuse? Some examples might be: Debt to society for paying for your childhood education Debt to parents for raising you Should it be considered ungrateful for someone to discontinue their affiliation with the investor if they feel that the relationship isn't beneficial to them?

You pose the question twice: first by asking if people owe a debt and second by asking if behaving in certain ways would be ungrateful . I think the difference matters. I don't know whether a child owes a debt to her parents—at least not in a certain strict sense. The primary use of the language of debt deals with contracts, promises and, in any case, cases of mutual consent. There are other uses, but the further they are from the primary ones, the harder it is to be sure of their force. Fortunately, it doesn't matter. Suppose we agree that the child doesn't literally owe her parents a debt for raising her—even if they did it lovingly, conscientiously and well. But would it be ungrateful for her to turn her back on her parents because, say, her new social circle made it embarrassing for her to have these people as parents? I think the answer is obvious enough. Asking what the daughter owes to her parents invites quibbles and evasion. But moral language is broader and more supple than...

Race and the history of slavery in the US is a highly sensitive topic (here in America). Recently, a news story came out about a town - Charleston, SC - that has officially apologized for its key role in slavery. According to the numbers, roughly 40% of all African slaves taken to the US were brought to Charleston. A lot of people are upset about this, and the main idea seems to be that no living persons are connected to and/or responsible for slavery (either directly or indirectly), and so no apologies should be made. The argument can probably be more formalized as follows: P1 - People should only apologize for those things which they are either directly or indirectly responsible for. (The 'responsible' party, here, being the causal antecedent of slavery) P1.2 - People should only receive apologies for those things in which they were either directly or indirectly affected by. P2 - No person alive today is either directly or indirectly responsible for slavery. C - There should therefore be no...

Both in the law and in morality we have a notion of corporate responsibility. In the case of the law, "corporate" will include corporations and that's a good place to start. Suppose it comes to light that fifty years ago, Corporation X ignored environmental requirements and polluted the water in some town. As a result, people were harmed, including children who are now living adults.. Suppose a team of journalists uncover what happened. The authorities decide to take Corporation X to court. The law would not look kindly on the argument that there are literally no members of the Corporate board or management from fifty years ago who are still alive today, and therefore Corporation X can't be found liable. But it's not just the law. If we allowed this argument to succeed, Corporation X, which continues to do business and thrive today, would get off scot free. Many people, perhaps most, would think that this is unjust. Someone could reply with a version of the argument you've outlined, but in the context...

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