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Ashford, Elizabeth, and . Utilitarianism, Integrity, and Partiality

2000, Journal of Philosophy 97(8): 421-439.

Introduction: Bernard Williams’s integrity objection against utilitarianism has made a very influential contribution to the view that utilitarianism is so demanding that it cannot be a serious option. Utilitarians, on the other hand, have generally denied that a suitably sophisticated version of utilitarianism is incompatible with agents’ integrity. I argue here that, if we examine what a valuable conception of integrity consists in, we can see that it actually commits us, in the current state of the world, to extremely demanding moral obligations, on any plausible account of our moral obligations, including Williams’s own. I then argue, however, that any such account of these obligations has difficulty in providing a rationale for how a fundamental conflict between them and agents’ pursuit of their personal projects can be avoided. I conclude that it is, in fact, a strength of utilitarianism that it acknowledges that this conflict cannot be resolved and makes explicit the extent to which our integrity is currently compromised. I lastly argue that there is a practically realizable state of the world in which utilitarian moral obligations would not seriously conflict with agents’ pursuit of their personal projects.

Comment: This text offers a discussion of some of the major objections to utilitarianism. It is useful as a core reading in teaching advanced modules on moral theories, or as a further reading in a more general ethics course.

Chambers, Clare, and Phil Parvin. Teach Yourself Political Philosophy: A Complete Introduction

2012, Hodder & Stoughton

Publisher’s Note: Written by Phil Parvin and Clare Chambers, who are current political philosophy lecturers and leading researchers, Political Philosophy – The Essentials is designed to give you everything you need to succeed, all in one place. It covers the key areas that students are expected to be confident in, outlining the basics in clear jargon-free English, and then providing added-value features like summaries of key thinkers, and even lists of questions you might be asked in your seminar or exam. The book’s structure follows that of most university courses on political philosophy, by looking at the essential concepts within political philosophy (freedom, equality, power, democracy, rights, the state, political obligation), and then looking at the ways in which political philosophers have used these fundamental concepts in order to tackle a range of normative political questions such as whether the state has a responsibility to alleviate inequalities, and what interest liberal and democratic states should take in the cultural or religious beliefs of citizens.

Comment: 'Phil Parvin and Clare Chambers have produced a state of the art textbook, which provides students with a comprehensive and bang up-to-date introduction to contemporary political philosophy. Topics are introduced in a clear and eminently readable fashion, using accessible real world examples whilst drawing on sophisticated scholarly literature. There is no comparable book which covers such a wide range of topics in such a student-friendly manner.' (Dr Daniel Butt, Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Bristol.) 'A lively, accessible and engaging read. Comprehensive and well organized, it provides an updated account of key concepts in contemporary political philosophy, and highlights their relevance to political life in the 21st century. A valuable book for anyone taking their first steps in the world of political philosophy, or anyone who seeks to understand the normative challenges faced by our society today.' (Dr Avia Pasternak, Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Essex.) 'Written in a clear and accessible style, it is an engaging introduction for those who are new to political philosophy and wish to think through some of its most important questions. In addition to offering outlines of key arguments, each chapter also contains a summary of main concepts, self-test questions, a wonderful selection of quotations and some attention-grabbing 'nuggets'' (Dr Zosia Stemplowska, University Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Oxford)

Hills, Alison, and . Is ethics rationally required?

2004, Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 47(1): 1-19.

Abstract: Sidgwick argued that utilitarianism was not rationally required because it could not be shown that a utilitarian theory of practical reason was better justified than a rival egoist theory of practical reason: there is a ‘dualism of practical reason’ between utilitarianism and egoism. In this paper, it is demonstrated that the dualism argument also applies to Kant’s moral theory, the moral law. A prudential theory that is parallel to the moral law is devised, and it is argued that the moral law is no better justified than this prudential theory. So the moral law is not rationally required. It is suggested that the dualism argument is a completely general argument that ethics cannot be rationally required.

Comment: This is a good and fairly accessible argument that casts doubt on the project of deriving morality from reason. It can be used alongside Kantian approaches to metaethics or reasons constituvism.

Hursthouse, Rosalind, and . Virtue, Theory and Abortion

1991, Philosophy & public affairs 20(3): 223-246.

Abstract: The sort of ethical theory derived from Aristotle, variously described as virtue ethics, virtue-based ethics, or neo-Aristotelianism, is becoming better known, and is now quite widely recognized as at least a possible rival to deontological and utilitarian theories. With recognition has come criticism, of varying quality. In this article I shall discuss nine separate criticisms that I have frequently encountered, most of which seem to me to betray an inadequate grasp either of the structure of virtue theory or of what would be involved in thinking about a real moral issue in its terms. In the first half I aim particularly to secure an understanding that will reveal that many of these criticisms are simply misplaced, and to articulate what I take to be the major criticism of virtue theory. I reject this criticism, but do not claim that it is necessarily misplaced. In the second half I aim to deepen that understanding and highlight the issues raised by the criticisms by illustrating what the theory looks like when it is applied to a particular issue, in this case, abortion.

Comment: Most useful as further reading in two contexts: (1) the ethics of abortion and the use of virtue ethics in determining its moral status; (2) virtue ethics, its relations with deontology and utilitarianism, and objections against it, with a discussion of the problem of abortion supporting the value of the neo-Aristotelian theory.

Nussbaum, Martha, and Rosalind Hursthouse. Plato on Commensurability and Desire

1984, Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 58: 55-96.

Diversifying Syllabi: Plato’s belief in the commensurability of values (shared by modern utilitarians) ultimately “cuts very deep: taken seriously, it will transform our passions as well as our decision-making, giving emotions such as love, fear, grief, and hence the ethical problems that are connected with them, an altogether different character” (56). The upshot is that “certain proposals in ethics and social choice theory that present themselves as innocuous extensions of ordinary belief and practice could actually lead, followed and lived with severity and rigor, to the end of human life as we currently know it” (56).

Comment: The text is useful in teaching ethics, especially as a critique of utilitarianism. It can also be used as a reading in history of philosophy classes focusing on ancient ethics. It is rather long, but can be used in excerpts. The paper is largely reprinted in Nussbaum's Fragility of Goodness.

Wolf, Susan, and . Moral Saints

1982, Journal of Philosophy 79 (8):419-439.
Reprinted in Crisp R. and Slote M. (eds.), Virtue ethics . Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Content: Wolf argues that “moral perfection, in the sense of moral saintliness, does not constitute a model of personal well-being toward which it would be particularly rational or good or desirable for a human being to strive.”

Comment: The text is written in an accessible, entertaining way and can provide an excellent introduction to a first year ethics module, or an inspiration to a thought-provoking discussion on the practical application of particular ethical theories.