Advanced Search

Is it consistent to oppose the death penalty on moral grounds, and also believe that life in prison is actually worse anyway?

I’m not sure I fully grasp the motivation behind your question, but here’s a guess as to how you may be reasoning: A punishment can be ethically indefensible if it is too severe, either in its own right (50 years of continuous physical torture, say) or in proportion to the seriousness of the crime (a decade in prison for petty theft, for instance, would be excessive). If life in prison is worse than execution, then if the death penalty should be opposed because it is too severe, then we should also oppose life in prison, since if the death penalty is too severe, and life in prison is (by stipulation) worse, then life in prison must also be too severe. So if this reasoning is correct, then either (a) both the death penalty and life in prison should be rejected on moral grounds for being too severe – a position that some may hold but many will reject on the basis that life in prison is not necessarily too severe (b) the death penalty must not be as bad as we think, and should not be opposed. Before...

Is suicide immoral?

This is a question with a long and disputed history. My own article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy outlines some of the main moral arguments surrounding the permissibility of suicide: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/suicide/ There's a long of history of religious anti-suicide arguments. I don't find these convincing as moral arguments, even granting the theistic assumptions on which they rest. And while I find Kant's position that suicide violates duties to oneself plausible, let's set that aside and treat your question as equivalent to 'does suicide wrong others?', I think the fairest answer is 'it depends.' The most credible argument for the immorality of suicide is that it harms specific others -- family members, etc. — who are are harmed psychologically or materially (a child whose parent's death via suicide deprives her of her parent, for instance) and who have come to rely upon the suicidal person in various ways. As I lay out this role-based obligations argument in the SEP...

What might be the impact, if any, on philosophical theory or practice is we found life elsewhere in the universe?

Funny you should ask this: The philosopher Tim Mulgan just published a nice article exploring this question, particularly its ethical and meta-ethical implications. Here's Mulgan's piece: https://aeon.co/essays/how-the-discovery-of-extraterrestrial-life-would-change-morality

A friend of mine committed suicide recently, and I find myself instinctively trying not only to understand why she did it and the cause and effect of how it happened, but trying to impose meaning -- trying to work out what the "significance" of her death is, and looking to sum up her whole life the way a funeral celebrant might, and say these are the patterns and themes and shape of it, this what it amounted to, this is what it represented, these are the takeaway ethical messages for your own life. But is there really any significance in suicide, is there any point to asking what it means, or is it senseless, like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn or any other physical event or act? And is it disrespectful to try to interpret meaning into someone's life or death or reduce their life to a moral lesson? The process not only feels a little bit like a lie, but also like it objectifies them and takes away from their humanity.

You are obviously grappling with your friend's death, and I appreciate the sophistication and sensitivity evident in your question. I think it's crucial here to distinguish the meaning or "significance" of suicide from the meaning or significance of your friend's suicide. It's important that we resist what I think of as the easy mystification of suicide. There is an unfortunate tendency to infer from our inability to understand a particular suicide or to imagine ourselves engaging in the act ourselves that suicide is unfathomable, incomprehensible, or beyond reason. The truth is we understand a fair bit about the causes of suicide, have growing knowledge of how to prevent it, and so on. We should not let our emotional reaction to suicide -- whether it be shock, dismay, anger, whatever -- lead us to treat suicide as a "senseless" or trivial act. That said, what we know about suicide in general can be difficult to extrapolate to particular people and cases. Individual people are in certain ways more...

Not sure whether this question would fall under philosophy or psychology (both perhaps) but I was always curious why it is that children love video games but hate homework. Cognitively they are pretty much the same. They challenge the child to think critically to solve a problem, and provide a sense of reward when completed, so why is one cherished while the other despised?

Looks like a psychological question with philosophical implications! Difficult to say for certain, but I would venture that the difference comes down to the nature of the reward. Unless a child is a professional video game player, playing the game has no rewards beyond the satisfaction of playing. The child is moved to play by intrinsic motivation . In contrast, in most cases, the rewards of completing one's homework are largely extrinsic , stemming from the praise a child gets from parents or teachers for completing it, grades, etc. And there's an abundance of evidence that the nature of our motivation for engaging in an activity shapes how rewarding or worthwhile we find it: Activities we perform for their own sake are experienced as more rewarding or worthwhile than activities whose rewards lie outside it (in social esteem, income, and so on). This is why most of us find play more gratifying than work, even when play is hard work! Edward Deci https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_L._Deci has...

Are rights just an idiom for really strong moral rules? (By "really strong," I mean that these rules typically take precedence over other rules.) For example, when we say that someone has a right to life, is that just another way of saying that it's immoral to kill people? Or are rights supposed to be somehow different in kind from other moral rules?

Some philosophers (utilitarians most notably) would agree that rights are "an idiom for really strong moral rules" that typically (though not necessarily) take precedence over other moral considerations. In the language made popular by Ronald Dworkin, rights function as "trumps," i.e., to have a right is to be protected against certain kinds of mistreatment even if that mistreatment would have very good consequences. So (for instance) a right to a fair trial is a right to be judged on the basis of certain procedures and evidence even if suspending those procedures might have very good consequences. But many philosophical advocates of moral rights would likely assert that while rights are really strong moral rules, when we say 'she has a right to X' we are saying something more than 'it would be immortal not to provide her X'. Rights are personal entitlements, claims to be treated in particular ways by others. Talk of rights thus seems aimed at capturing our sense that individuals are morally...

Any reason someone could give for why they love me renders me replaceable. For instance, if they love me for my appearance, intelligence, kindness, well, there's always someone more attractive, smarter, kinder. So, all things being equal, they ought to trade up to a better model if presented with the choice; or if God is the most perfect example of all desirable traits, then they ought to love God and no one else. I'd like to ask the panel: in contrast to loving someone because of some quality that they might or might not be the best exemplar of, does it at all make sense to love someone in their particularity, ie simply because they occupy a certain position in the time-space continuum? Or does that make a nonsense of the concept of love? Or is it silly, in the first place, to look for reasons for love?

I don't know about loving someone thanks to their position in the time-space continuum, but yes, we can and do love people for their particularity, as you put it. It's important to distinguish what sparks love for someone and what sustains it. It's certainly true that we cannot love just anyone. We vary in the traits we find attractive or lovable. When we first encounter someone, their attributes are what sparks our love for them. But love has a history, and as loving relationships develop or evolve, we often come to love someone less for their attributes than for the person that they are. It's then that the beloved seems irreplaceable, for only that person will have their distinctive set of attributes, etc. Christopher Grau's article "Love and history" (https://philpapers.org/archive/GRALAH.pdf) is very good on this subject. Bennett Helm's article on love in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/love/) is a good place to get a foothold on the philosophical issues...

We laud veterans for having "fought for their country" regardless of what the fight may have actually accomplished. For example, many people who regard the Vietnam War as a failure--or worse, a moral atrocity--still hold Vietnam vets in high regard. It strikes me that reverence for veterans rarely considers whether their actions actually made any of their countrymen better off (never mind people in other countries). We have a notion of honorable military service that is tenable only insofar as it abstracts away the actual practical outcomes of warfare. When we praise a veteran, what exactly are we praising them for?

One morally important distinction here is between conscripted and voluntary military service. As you are probably aware, the United States currently has an all-voluntary military; every soldier is a soldier by choice. This has not always been the case (either in the U.S. or elsewhere). Nations sometimes requires military service of all citizens as a matter of course and/or utilize a draft during wartime. Let's focus first on those whose service is voluntary. Our attitudes toward those who volunteer for military service are, in my estimation, incoherent. We have become too quick to "thank them for their service" without due concern for the morality of their service. Classical just war theory divides the moral appraisal of war into two: there is the question of whether a nation's waging war in a given set of circumstances is just, and there's the question of whether a war is justly waged (whether, for example, the tactics or strategies used to pursue victory are just). Soldiers can therefore err morally...

I'm told Kantians believe something like the following: that it would be inconsistent to respect our own preferences and not the preferences of others. If so, while pro-vegetarian arguments are often couched in terms of suffering and consequences, aren't there strong Kantian arguments for vegetarianism also? After all, many non-human animals do have preferences and desires, and generally prefer not to be eaten or killed.

Kantian ethics does appeal to notions of consistency, but the consistency that Kantian morality requires is not consistency in respecting "preferences" (as you expressed it.) Rather, Kantian morality requires consistency in respect for practically rational agency, i.e, the capacity to set one's ends and choose the means to one's ends. Kant believed (not incorrectly, for the most part) that non-human animals lack this capacity and hence are not owed respect in this sense. Indeed, Kant held that, strictly speaking, we have no moral obligations to animals at all; animals lack the property (practical rational agency) that lends something moral standing. Many moral philosophers, including many Kantians, find Kant's conclusions troubling, inasmuch as it certainly seems intuitively plausible that we can wrong animals. Kantians have tried a number of solutions to rescue Kantian ethics from this position. Here are some articles in that vein: https://philpapers.org/rec/CHOADK https://philpapers.org/rec/DENKCO-2...

According to Kant, prostitution is morally wrong. The second formulation of the categorical imperative states that one should never use themselves, or another as a mere means. 1. I can see how prostitution would fail to respect self, as it is using one's body as a "mere means" to earn money. But how is that different from a farmer, who use his body to work in the fields to harvest crops for food and money? 2. Prostitution also fails to respect another, by using the person to satisfy his sexual urges. However, by paying the prostitute, isn't it also respecting her by recognizing her dignity and worth and paying her for her "work"? On the basis of these 2 points, can you please explain why prostitution is morally wrong?

I'm not sure that most contemporary Kantian moral philosophers agree with Kant on the morality of prostitution. As you note, prostitution does not seem to make use of one's own humanity in a way that's fundamentally different from other forms of work or labor which are clearly morally permissible. Why think that prostitution, unlike farming, involves the wrongful use of ourselves merely as a means? Much of the reason is that Kant was deeply skeptical about the compatibility of sexual desire with the moral requirement to treat rational agents as ends in themselves rather than merely as a means. He writes: “Sexual union is the reciprocal use that one human beings makes of the sexual organs and capacities of another” for the purpose of enjoyment. As Kant saw it, sexual desire is not a desire for a person's good but for the use of their body for one's own physical pleasure. Hence, sexual desire is fundamentally at odds with respect for others' rational natures. Sex is animalistic in that we treat ourselves ...

Pages