Write a 2000 to 2500 word ( page) essay on one of the topics below. Your paper should be turned in at the beginning of lecture on Wednesday, November 28.
Please bear in mind in writing that the virtues of a philosophy paper are clarity, depth of analysis and critical questioning, judicious consideration of arguments, and logical organization. Be sensitive to such questions as: Are my claims clear? Are my arguments clear? Am I being fair to opposing views and adequately appreciative of what might be said in response to my claims and arguments? Also, when you make claims about a philosopher we have read, make sure that you support your interpretation with specific references to the text.
Finally, academic integrity requires that you clearly acknowledge and reference ideas you have derived from others (whether from books or from the Internet). Especially when you take a specific formulation of a point, it is necessary to make that clear with quotation. The College's policy on academic integrity and plagiarism can be found at:
If nothing else, please bear in mind that this is an ethics course.
1. In Chapter 3 of Utilitarianism, Mill argues that utilitarian morality is binding because, under favorable conditions, human beings can have motives to act as it requires. In Chapter 3 of the Groundwork, Kant attempts to argue for a much more ambitious conclusion, that the CI is binding on any rational agent, whatever their psychology might otherwise be like. Critically assess Kant’s project and argument in Chapter 3. Why does he argue for such a strong conclusion? Why would he reject Mill’s arguments as inadequate? How successful is Kant’s project in your view.
2. In “Critique of Ethics,” Ayer distinguishes his own view, emotivism, from subjectivism. What’s the difference between the two kinds of metaethical theories? Use some examples to illustrate the difference. Ayer contends that emotivism is more tenable than subjectivism. Critically evaluate Ayer’s arguments. Finally, put forth some objections to Ayer’s emotivism.
3. Nietzsche says of Kant’s famous formula that “the categorical imperative smells of cruelty.” (Genealogy.II.6.1) Present what you think would be Nietzsche’s strongest criticisms of Kant’s moral philosophy, giving special attention to this quote. Then say what you think Kant’ most effective replies to these criticisms would be. Finally, critically assess the overall debate. Whose picture of ethics do you find most persuasive and why?
4. The Formula of Humanity (End-in-Itself Formulation) of the CI is both suggestive and deeply resonant in ordinary thought. But it is also puzzling and hard to make precise. Use the formulation to analyze the following case (due to Bernard Williams):
"Jim finds himself in the central square of a small South American town. Tied up against the wall are a row of twenty Indians, most terrified, a few defiant, in front of them are several armed men in uniform. A heavy man in a sweat-stained khaki shirt turns out to be the captain in charge and, after a good deal of questioning of Jim which establishes that he got there by accident while on a botanical expedition, explains that the Indians are a random group of inhabitants who, after recent acts of protest against the government, are just about to be killed to remind other possible protestors of the advantages of not protesting. However, since Jim in an honored visitor from another land, the captain is happy to offer him a guest's privilege of killing one of the Indians himself. If Jim accepts, then as a special mark of the occasion, the other Indians will be let off. Of course, if Jim refuses, then there is no special occasion, and Pedro here will do what he was about to do when Jim arrived, and kill them all. Jim, with some desperate recollection of schoolboy fiction, wonders whether if he got hold of a gun, he could hold the captain, Pedro and the rest of the soldiers to threat, but it is quite clear from the set-up that nothing of that kind is going to work: any attempt at that sort of thing will mean that all the Indians will be killed, and himself."
Write an essay in which you critically discuss the Formula of Humanity and this case in light of the Formulation. Say something about how this Formulation relates to the others, especially in view of Kant’s claim that they are all equivalent.
5. Kant’s second formulation of the CI says: “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other other, always at the same as an end, never merely as a means.” Consider the following utilitarian response: “This principle is completely consistent with a form of utilitarianism, like Mill’s, that treats dignity (or autonomy) as an important constituent of human happiness. Utilitarianism never recommends that individuals be treated merely as means, since its end (the greatest overall happiness) is one that any agent morally should endorse, and since happiness itself includes rational functioning as a part.” Critically discuss Kant’s ethics in light of this statement. What morally and philosophically important differences are there between Kant’s ethics (especially the second formulation of the CI) and Millian utilitarianism? Say which picture of morality you find most persuasive and why.
6. In both lecture and in Philosophical
the idea is broached that Kant seems to pursue a kind of ideal
metaethical theory in Section III of his Groundwork.
motivations behind this ideal practical agent theory, its relationship
meta-ethical theories, and its attempt to answer the fundamental
metaethics. In particular, how might this theory respond to
7. Compare and contrast Aristotle’s defense of the claim that a good life for human beings consists in the excellent exercise of distinctive human faculties, hence in excellent, distinctively human activity with Mill’s defense of qualitative hedonism. Do Mill and Aristotle really disagree? What, if anything, is really the issue between them and what does it reveal about their respective approaches to ethics. If they don’t disagree, what explains the appearance that they do?
(If you do this question, obviously you will have to read ahead. Mainly you will be focusing on Books I and II of the Nicomachean Ethics, but you will also want to bring in what Aristotle says chapters 1-5 of Book X, as well as in Book I.)