I'm currently struggling to convince many people that murdering a child can be justified in some very extreme situations. There's this character in a novel who attempts to murder an innocent child because, if he hadn't, his entire family would have gotten executed with certainty (his 3 children, his lover and himself). Was the character justified in attempting to murder this child? I believe that he was. After all, to do otherwise would have resulted in the deaths of 5 other people. Aren't 5 lives generally worth more than one?

The answer to your question depends on which 'camp' within ethics you think is correct. One major theory within ethics is consequentialism. This school claims that the moral worth of an action is determined entirely by the action's consequences. Obviously, the consequentialist theory will agree with your intuition that it is better for one person to die than for five. In contrast, the deontological approach to ethics claims that there is something within the nature of actions in themselves that makes actions right or wrong. For example, Immanuel Kant taught that we ought to always act in such a way as to treat people as an end in themselves and never as a mere means. According to this way of thinking, some actions are against objective human dignity, so we should never 'use people'...even if we expect it to bring about a greater good. So we should never kill an innocent person, even if failing to do so would bring about multiple deaths. Kant would also deny that you can 'really know' the results of...

I adhere to a position of moral relativism and utilitarianism. But recently I was confronted with the criticism that, then, there is no basis for the idea of "human rights" or for the ordering of law based on them. Is this true? Is there a utilitarian justification for human rights?

First, we need to clarify your terms. Moral relativism typically claims that: there is no objectively morally correct thing to do independent of the individual actor's values or the specific culture's values. In contrast, utilitarianism claims that: there is an objective morally correct thing to do, whatever action ultimately brings about the greatest happiness for all involved. Therefore, you cannot be both a relativist and a utilitarian. I suspect when you claim that you are a moral relativist, what you really mean is something like: there is no type of action that is inherently wrong in and of itself (which is a claim compatible with utilitarianism). The claim that there are universal, objective human rights would be incompatible with utilitarianism. However, you could claim something a little less sweeping: that given the current state of humanity, set of rights 'x' would likely bring about the greatest good for all involved on the most reliable basis that we can predict. Of course, the problem...

I recently read in the New York Times that a majority of philosophers are moral realists. That is, they believe there are right and wrong answers to moral questions. I have always been under the impression that David Hume has had the last word on this and that questions of morality are emotive. That is, the come from our emotions, not our reason. They are similar in kind to positions on aesthetics, for example, however in the case of morals we view them as much more important. This seems certainly correct to me. If not, how can any position on basic values or morals be verified? We can verify that the moon is not made of cream cheese, but we cannot verify in the same way that it is "moral" for that human beings survive.

If I'm reading the question correctly, it assumes that if morals aren't empirically verifiable, then they must be based upon emotion rather than reason. Frankly, I don't know why anyone would make that assumption. There are lots of important claims that aren't based upon emotion, but that ultimately aren't empirically verifiable. For example, the claim that 'if morals aren't empirically verifiable, then they must be based upon emotion rather than reason' is not empirically verifiable but does not seem based upon any emotion. If any of the great modern philosophers had the 'last word' on ethics (and a vast range of other issues) it would have probably been Kant who wrote after Hume and rejected many of his views (including this one).

Is it paradoxical for the US government to render embryonic stem cell research illegal, in a country where abortion is legal??

The current debates about embryonic stem cell research concern whether federal funding should be spent upon it, not on whether such research is banned in the USA. Similarly, federal funding for abortion is more controversial than its legality.

We all wish that we die before a person we love a LOT (our parents is an example), because we think that we'll be very sad and cry all the time. But, isn't it more moral to wish that this beloved person dies before us, so we would support the extreme sadness and not them ?

I disagree with one of your stated assumptions and one of your implied assumptions. First, I certainly don't want to die before many of the beloved people around me (and I insist that I still love them quite a bit). However, I disagree with this stated assumption, because I disagree with your implicit assumption that when we should wish to die ought to be motivated mainly by a desire for self or others to avoid the sadness of grieving. It seems to me that we should be more motivated by a desire to avoid (and for others to avoid) the 'bad' of death. I would prefer not to die at all but since that doesn't seem to be an option, it seems wisest to accept the natural pattern of this world: to die after your beloved parents, before your children and grandchildren, and in roughly the same time span as siblings, friends, and spouses. It is also easier to accept mortality (your own and others) if you don't think this is the end, as many excellent philosophers such as Plato, Aquinas, Kant, and Kierkegaard...

I am firm believer that life human or animal should be preserved whenever possible. I would also like to believe that had I lived in Nazi Germany I would have stood up for the persecuted. So how can I reconcile my strong moral convictions with my inaction regarding the mass murder of animals everyday. Ironically enough I feel guilty for letting the law and the disappointment of my family stand in the way of stopping the massacre. This guilt is causing me great pain. Please enlighten me on what I should do.

An important ethical principle advanced by Kant was 'ought implies can.' So long as you are doing what you can to carry out your moral convictions, you have no reason to feel guilty (though perhaps, you still have reason to feel sorrow). It is legitimate to try to persuade others to embrace your view within reason, but remember that damaging your relationships with your family over this issue or getting yourself thrown into jail would only introduce another evil into the universe. So, perhaps you should do more than you currently are, but I don't think you ought to 'beat yourself up' over things that are outside of your control.

Let's say there is some activity that your significant other wants to do together (going to the movies/opera/a sports event, or any number of things). You, personally, have a neutral attitude towards this particular activity, i.e., the activity itself doesn't give you any particular pleasure/happiness/utility in and of itself. However, you know that this activity DOES have intrinsic value to your significant other; they would be happy doing it in and of itself. However, you also know that they are not willing to do this activity unless a) you are willing to do it with them, and b) you are also getting pleasure out of it (they wouldn't want to do it if they knew that you were only doing it "for them"). My question is this: in this sort of situation, is it better to lie and say that it makes you happy, so that they will do this activity which gives them happiness, because you want them to be happy, or should you instead tell the truth on the principle that you shouldn't lie, especially not to your...

I think this kind of dilemma is rather common and has a fairly straightforward solution. When two people have very diverse interests it is important to learn to sincerely enjoy activities that your significant other enjoys. There's a difference between someone who is willing to 'tolerate' an activity towards which he is indifferent, which is the situation you are describing and someone who sincerely commits himself to discovering what it is about the activity that others find enjoyable. I've found that for most activities one is genuinely neutral towards (as opposed to activities one dislikes), it is possible to cultivate at least some genuine interest.... so my advice is learn to appreciate the significance of moving a football ten yards in four attempts, or the merits of Edward over Jacob, or why wine aged in oak barrels tastes better, etc.

Is it morally wrong for a person with a serious illness and reduced lifespan to reproduce, knowing that in all likelihood the child will have to experience the loss of a parent in adolescence? Assume that the other parent is healthy and prepared for life as a single parent. Can the reproduction be morally justified on the basis of it being less of a wrong to bring into existence a child who will likely lose a parent early on than for one person to deny the other the opportunity of experiencing parenthood? Obviously we are talking about two different recipients of potential harm here but I am focusing on the idea of a general moral wrong. i.e. which is the greater wrong?

I don't think the reality of the parent's serious illness and reduced lifespan in itself would make it morally wrong to reproduce. After all, there are plenty of children who grow up without ever meeting one of their parents or who lose one or both parents early in life that have a very fulfilling life on the whole. That being said I could imagine circumstances where I would encourage the parent not to reproduce. For example, if that family's specific circumstances would guarantee that the child would end up in utter poverty long-term after the parent's death. I don't think the 'potential harm of denying the other potential parent the chance to have a child' weighs too heavily in the decision. Clearly, you are either putting the future child in a circumstance that is likely to result in his/her overall flourishing or not. Your potential partner's harm of missing the chance to parent is a comparatively lesser matter since there are other ways that he/she might have the opportunity to flourish. ...

Do I have a moral/filial duty to love and respect one of my parents when they have committed a wrongdoing against the other parent? Do I have a moral right to feel outraged at this parent on behalf of the other parent, when this parent has only ever been a good and loving parent to me?

One of the most useful relational skills that one can cultivate is the ability to have nuanced moral evaluations of people. Few individuals are complete saints or monsters. Instead most of us are complex and flawed, yet praiseworthy on at least some points. So, I would say that it is wisest to love and respect your parent for his or her good treatment of you, but be outraged at the bad behavior. It takes wisdom to know how to live this attitude out well. The bad behavior may merit some confrontation from you, but you shouldn't simply cut off a relationship with someone who has treated you well.

Is marketing fundamentally a bad thing?

I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'marketing'. Generally, I appreciate being informed about goods and services that I might be interested in purchasing. However, I hate being manipulated into buying things I don't really want or being misinformed about the products that I am offered. Unfortunately, I would have to say that a lot of 'marketing' these days seems to fall into the second unethical category.