Report: Division

Resources by Lawrence Hinman


Lectures on Ethical Theory

Introduction: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory

Stunning Morality: The Moral Dimensions of Stun Belts

Abortion: An Overview of the Ethical Issues

The Ethics of Diversity: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Moral Theory

Biomedical Ethics





Lectures on Ethical Theory

Fall, 2003



  1. Moral Orientations: Overview


  1. The Moral Point of View


  1. Ethical Relativism


  1. Ethics and Religion


  1. Ethics of Divine Command


  1. Psychological Egoism


  1. Ethical Egoism


  1. Utilitarianism


  1. Immanuel Kant: The Ethics of Duty


  1. Immanuel Kant: The Ethics of Respect


  1. Kant: A Brief Assessment of His Moral Philosophy

Ethics of Rights

  1. Theories of Justice


  1. Justice and War


  1. Virtue Theory: The Structure of Virtues

Ethics of Character: Aristotle

  1. Virtue Theory: Five Virtues (courage, compassion, self-love, friendship, and forgiveness)

Ethics of Character: Aristotle on Courage and Friendship

  1. Virtue Theory: Courage

Ethics of Diversity: Gender and Ethics

  1. Gender and Moral Theory: Kohlberg and Gilligan

Ethics of Diversity: Race, Ethnicity, Multiculturalism

  1. Race, Ethnicity, Multiculturalism and Moral Theory




Introduction: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory



Lawrence M. Hinman

Excerpted from: Lawrence M. Hinman, Contemporary Moral Issues, 2nd ed. (Prentice-Hall, 1999).



Moral Disagreement


The Apparent Prevalence of Moral Disagreement


As we move through the chapters of this book, we will see one area of moral disagreement after another.  Abortion, surrogacy, euthanasia, the death penalty, racism, sexism, homosexuality, welfare, world hunger, animal rights, and environmental issues–all are areas characterized by fundamental disagreements, often intense, sometimes bitter and acrimonious.


This situation is made even more perplexing by the fact that in all of these debates, each side has good arguments in support of its position.  In other words, these are not debates in which one side is so obviously wrong that only moral blindness or ill-will could account for its position.  Thus we cannot easily dismiss such disagreements by just saying that one side is wrong in some irrational or malevolent way.  Ultimately, these are disagreements among intelligent people of good will.  And it is precisely this fact that makes them so disturbing.  Certainly part of moral disagreement can be attributed to ignorance or ill will, but the troubling part is the moral disagreement among informed and benevolent people.


What kind of sense can we make of such disagreement?  Three possible responses deserve particular attention.


Moral Absolutism


The first, and perhaps most common, response to such disagreements is to claim that there is a single, ultimate answer to the questions being posed.  This is the answer of the absolutists, those who believe there is a single Truth with a capital “T.”  Usually, absolutists claim to know what that truth is–and it usually corresponds, not surprisingly, to their own position.


Moral absolutists are not confined to a single position.  Indeed, absolutism is best understood as much as a way of holding certain beliefs as it is an item of such belief.  Religious fundamentalists–whether Christian, Muslim, or some other denomination–are usually absolutists.  Some absolutists believe in communism, others believe just as absolutely in free market economics.  Some moral philosophers are absolutists, believing that their moral viewpoint is the only legitimate one.  But what characterized all absolutists is the conviction that their truth is the truth.


Moral absolutist may be right, but there are good reasons to be skeptical about their claims.  If they are right, how do they explain the persistence of moral disagreement?  Certainly there are disagreements and disputes in other areas (including the natural sciences), but in ethics there seems to be persistence to these disputes that we usually do not find in other areas.  It is hard to explain this from an absolutist standpoint without saying such disagreement is due to ignorance or ill will.  Certainly this is part of the story, but can it account for all moral disagreement?  Absolutists are unable to make sense out of the fact that sometimes we have genuine moral disagreements among well-informed and good-intentioned people who are honestly and openly seeking the truth.


Moral Relativism


The other common response to such disagreement effectively denies that there is a truth in this area, even with a lower case “t.”  Moral relativists maintain that moral disagreements stem from the fact that what is right for one is not necessarily right for another.  Morality is like beauty, they claim, purely relative to the beholder. There is no ultimate standard in terms of which perspectives can be judged.  No one is wrong; everyone is right within his or her own sphere.


Notice that these relativists do more than simply acknowledge the existence of moral disagreement.  Just to admit that moral disagreement exists is called descriptive relativism, and this is a comparatively uncontroversial claim.  There is plenty of disagreement in the moral realm, just as there is in most other areas of life.  However, normative relativists go further.  They not only maintain that such disagreement exists; they also say that each is right relative to his or her own culture.  Incidentally, it is also worth noting that relativists disagree about precisely what morality is relative to.  At the one end of the spectrum are those (cultural moral relativists) who say that morality is relative to culture; at the other end of the spectrum are those (moral subjectivists) who argue that morality is relative to each individual.  When we refer to moral relativists here, we will be talking about normative relativists, including both cultural moral relativists and moral subjectivists.


Although moral relativism often appears appealing at first glance, it proves to be singularly unhelpful in the long run.  It provides an explanation of moral disagreement, but it fails to provide a convincing account of how moral agreement could be forged.  In the fact of disagreement, what practical advice can relativists offer us?  All they can say, it would seem, is that we ought to follow the customs of our society, our culture, our age, or our individual experience.  Thus cultural moral relativists tell us, in effect, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  Moral subjectivists tell us that we should be true, not to our culture, but to our individual selves.  But relativists fail to offer us help in how to resolve disputes when they arise.  To say that each is right unto itself is of no help, for the issue is what happens when they come together.


While this might be helpful advice in an age of moral isolationism when each society (or individual) was an island unto itself, it is of little help today.  In our contemporary world, the pressing moral question is how we can live together, not how we can live apart.  Economies are mutually interdependent; corporations are often multinational; products such as cars are seldom made in a single country.  Communications increasingly cut across national borders.  Satellite-based telecommunication systems allows international television (MTV is worldwide, and news networks are sure to follow) and international telephone communications.  Millions of individuals around the world dial into the Internet, establishing a virtual community.  In such a world, relativism fails to provide guidance for resolving disagreements.  All it can tell us is that everyone is right in his or her own world.  But the question for the future is how to determine what is right when world overlap.


Moral Pluralism


Let’s return to our problem: in some moral disputes, there seem to be well-informed and good-intentioned people on opposing sides.  Absolutism fails to offer a convincing account of how opposing people could be both well informed and good intentioned.  It says there is only one answer, and those who do not see it are either ignorant or ill willed.  Relativism fails to offer a convincing account of how people can agree.  It says no one is wrong, that each culture (or individual) is right unto itself.  However, it offers no help about how to resolve these moral disputes.


There is a third possible response here, which I will call moral pluralism.  Moral pluralists maintain that there are moral truths, but they do not form a body of coherent and consistent truths in the way that one finds in the science or mathematics.  Moral truths are real, but partial.  Moreover, they are inescapably plural.  There are many moral truths, not just one–and they may conflict with one another.


Let me borrow an analogy from government.  Moral absolutists are analogous to old-fashioned monarchists: there is one leader, and he or she has the absolute truth.  Moral relativists are closer to anarchists: each person or group has its own truth.  The United States government is an interesting example of a tripartite pluralist government.  We don’t think that the President, the Congress, or the judiciary alone has an exclusive claim to truth.  Each has a partial claim, and each provides a check on the other two.  We don’t–at least not always–view conflict among the three branches as a bad thing.  Indeed, such a system of overlapping and at times conflicting responsibilities is a way of hedging our bets.  If we put all of our hope in only one of the branches of government, we would be putting ourselves at greater risk.  If that one branch is wrong, then everything is wrong.  However, if there are three (at least partially conflicting) branches of government, then the effect of one branch’s being wrong are far less catastrophic.  Moreover, the chance that mistakes will be uncovered earlier is certainly increased when each branch is being scrutinized by the others.


We have an analogous situation in the moral domain.  As we shall see, there are conflicting theories about goodness and rightness.  Such conflict is a good thing.  Each theory contains important truths about the moral life, and none of them contains the whole truth.  Each keeps the others honest, as it were, curbing the excesses of any particular moral absolutism.  Yet each claims to have the truth, and refuses the relativist’s injunction to avoid making judgments about others.  Judgment–both making judgments and being judged–is crucial to the moral life, just as it is to the political life.  We have differing moral perspectives, but we must often inhabit a common world.


It is precisely this tension between individual viewpoints and living in a common world that lies at the heart of this book.  The diversity of viewpoints is not intended to create a written version of those television news shows where people constantly shout at one another.  Rather, these selections indicate the range of important and legitimate insights with which we approach the issue in question.  The challenge, then, is for us–as individuals, and as a society–to forge a common ground which acknowledges the legitimacy of the conflicting insights but also establishes a minimal area of agreement so that we can live together with our differences.  The model this book strives to emulate is not the one-sided monarch who claims the have the absolute truth, nor is it the anarchistic society that contains no basis for consensus.  Rather, it is the model of a healthy government in which diversity, disagreement, compromise, and consensus are signs of vitality.


A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theories


Just as in the political realm there are political parties and movements that delineate the main contours of the political debate, so also in philosophy there are moral theories that provide characteristic ways of understanding and resolving particular moral issues.  In the readings throughout this book, we will see a number of examples of these theories in action.  It is helpful, before doing so, to look at some of the main characteristics of each of these theories.  Just as Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, libertarians and socialists all have important, and often conflicting, insights about the political life, so too does each of these theories have valuable insights into the moral life.  Yet none of them has the whole story.  Let’s look briefly at each of these approaches.

Morality as Consequences


What makes an action morally good?  For many of us, what counts are consequences. The right action is the one that produces good consequences.  If a give money to Oxfam to help starving people, and if Oxfam saves the lives of starving people and helps them develop a self-sustaining economy, then I have done something good.  It is good because it produced good consequences.  For this reason, it is the right thing to do.  Those who subscribe to this position are called consequentialists.  All consequentialists share a common belief that it is consequences that make an action good, but they differ among themselves about precisely which consequences.

Ethical Egoism


Some consequentialists, called ethical egoists, maintain that each of us should look only at the consequences that affect us.  In their eyes, each person ought to perform those actions that contribute most to his or her own self-interest.  Each person is the best judge of his or her own self-interest, and each person is responsible for maximizing his or her own self-interest.  The political expression of ethical egoism occurs most clearly in libertarianism, and the best-known advocate of this position was probably Ayn Rand.


Ethical egoism has been criticized on a number of counts, most notably that it simply draws the circle of morality much too closely around the isolated individual.  Critics maintain that self-interest is precisely what morality has to overcome, not what it should espouse.  Egoism preaches selfishness, but morality should encourage altruism, compassion, love, and a sense of community–all, according to critics, beyond the reach of the egoist.



Once we begin to enlarge the circle of those affected by the consequences of our actions, we move toward a utilitarian position.  At its core, utilitarianism believes that we ought to do what produces the greatest overall good consequences for everyone, not just for me.  We determine this by examining the various courses of action open to us, calculating the consequences associated with each, and then deciding on the one that produces the greatest overall good consequences for everyone.  It is consequentialist and computational.  It holds out the promise that moral disputes can be resolved objectively by computing consequences.  Part of the attraction of utilitarianism is precisely this claim to objectivity based on a moral calculus.


This is a very demanding moral doctrine for two reasons.  First, it asks people to set aside their own individual interests for the good of the whole.  Often this can result in great individual sacrifice if taken seriously.  For example, the presence of hunger and starvation in our society (as well as outside of it) places great demands on the utilitarian, for often more good would be accomplished by giving food to the hungry than eating it oneself.  Second, utilitarianism asks us to do whatever produces the most good.  Far from being a doctrine of the moral minimum, utilitarianism always asks us to do the maximum.


Utilitarians disagree among themselves about what the proper standard is for judging consequences.  What are “good” consequences?  Are they the ones that produce the most pleasure? the most happiness? the most truth, beauty, and the like? or simply the consequences that satisfy the most people?  Each of these standards of utility has its strengths and weaknesses.  Pleasure is comparatively easy to measure, but in many people’s eyes it seems to be a rather base standard.  Can’t we increase pleasure just by putting electrodes in the proper location in a person’s brain?  Presumably we want something more, and better, than that.  Happiness seems a more plausible candidate, but the difficulty with happiness is that it is both elusive to define and extremely difficult to measure.  This is particularly a problem for utilitarianism, for since its initial appeal rests in part on its claim to objectivity.  Ideals such as truth and beauty are even more difficult to measure.  Preference satisfaction is more measurable, but it provides no foundation for distinguishing between morally acceptable preferences and morally objectionable preferences such as racism.


The other principal disagreement that has plagued utilitarianism centers on the question of whether we look at the consequences of each individual act–this is called act utilitarianism–or the consequences that would result from everyone following a particular rule–this is called rule utilitarianism.  The danger of act utilitarianism is that it may justify some particular acts that most of us would want to condemn particular those that sacrifice individual life and liberty for the sake of the whole.  The classic problem occurs in regard to punishment.  We could imagine a situation in which punishing an innocent person–while concealing his innocence, of course–would have the greatest overall good consequences.  If doing so would result in the greatest overall amount of pleasure or happiness, and then it would not only be permitted by act utilitarianism, it would be morally required.  Similar difficulties arise in regard to an issue such as euthanasia.  It is conceivable that overall utility might justify active euthanasia of the elderly and infirm, even involuntary euthanasia, especially of those who leave no one behind to mourn their passing.  Yet are there things we cannot do to people, even if utility seems to require it?  Many of us would answer such a question affirmatively.


In response to such difficulties, utilitarian theorists pointed out that, while consequences may justify a particular act of punishing the innocent, they could never justify living by a rule that said it was permissible to punish the innocent when doing so would produce the greatest utility.  Rule utilitarians agree that we should look only at consequences, but maintain that we should look at the consequences of adopting a particular rule for everyone, not the consequences of each individual action.  This type of utilitarianism is less likely to generate the injustices associated with act utilitarianism, but many feel that it turns into rule-worship.  Why, critics ask, should we follow the rule in those instances where it does not produce the greatest utility?


Feminist Consequentialism


During the last twenty years, much interesting and valuable work has been done in the area of feminist ethics.  It would be misleading to think of feminist approaches to ethics as falling into a single camp, but certainly some feminist moral philosophers have sketched out consequentialist accounts of the moral life in at least two different ways.


First, some feminists have argued that morality is a matter of consequences, but that consequences are not best understood or evaluated in the traditional computational model offered by utilitarianism.  Instead, they focus primarily on the ways in which particular actions have consequences for relationships and feelings.  Negative consequences are those that destroy relationships and that hurt others, especially those that hurt others emotionally.  Within this tradition, the morally good course of action is that one that preserves the greatest degree of connectedness among all those affected by it.  Carol Gilligan has described this moral voice in her book In a Different Voice.


Second, other feminists have accepted a roughly utilitarian account of consequences, but have paid particular attention to–and often given special weight to–the consequences that affect women.  Such consequences, they argue, have often been overlooked by traditional utilitarian calculators, supposedly impartial but often insensitive to harms to women.  Unlike the work of Gilligan and others mentioned in the previous paragraph, man in this tradition do not question the dominant utilitarian paradigm, but rather question whether it has in fact been applied impartially.




Despite these disagreements about the precise formulation of utilitarianism, most people would admit that utilitarianism contains important insights into the moral life.  Part of the justification for morality, and one of the reasons people accept the burdens of morality, is that it promises to produce a better world than we would have without it.  This is undoubtedly part of the picture.  But is it the whole picture?


Morality as Act and Intention


Critics of utilitarianism point out that, for utilitarianism, no actions are good or bad in themselves.  All actions in themselves are morally neutral, and for pure consequentialists no action is intrinsically evil.  Yet this seems to contradict the moral intuition of many people, people who believe that some actions are just morally wrong, even if they have good results.  Killing innocent human beings, torturing people, raping them–these are but a few of the actions that many would want to condemn as wrong in themselves, even if in unusual circumstances they may produce good consequences.


How can we tell if some actions are morally good or bad in themselves?  Clearly, we must have some standard against which they can be judged.  Various standards have been proposed, and most of these again capture important truths about the moral life.


Conformity to God’s Commands


In a number of fundamentalist religious traditions, including some branches of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, what makes an act right is that it is commanded by God and what makes an act wrong is that it is forbidden by God.  In these traditions, certain kinds of acts are wrong just because God forbids them.  Usually such prohibitions are contained in sacred texts such as the Bible or the Qu’ran.


There are two principal difficulties with this approach, one external, one internal.  The external problem is that, while this may provide a good reason for believers to act in particular ways, it hardly gives a persuasive case to non-believers.  The internal difficulty is that it is often difficult, even with the best of intentions, to discern what God’s commands actually are.  Sacred texts, for example, contain numerous injunctions, but it is rare that any religious tradition takes all of them seriously.  (The Bible tells believers to pick up venomous vipers, but only a handful of Christians engage in this practice.)  How do we decide which injunctions to take seriously and which to ignore or interpret metaphorically?


Natural Law


There is a long tradition, beginning with Aristotle and gaining great popularity in the middle ages, that maintains that acts which are “unnatural” are always evil.  The underlying premise of this view is that the natural is good, and therefore what contradicts it is bad.  Often, especially in the middle ages, this was part of a larger Christian worldview that saw nature as created by God, who then was the ultimate source of its goodness.  Yet it has certainly survived in twentieth century moral and legal philosophy quite apart from its theological underpinnings.  This appeal to natural law occurs at a number of junctures in our readings, but especially in the discussions of reproductive technologies and those of homosexuality.  Natural law arguments lead quite easily into considerations of human nature, again with the implicit claim that human nature is good.


Natural law arguments tend to be slippery for two, closely interrelated reasons.  First, for natural law arguments to work, one has to provide convincing support for the claim that the natural is (the only) good–or at least for its contrapositive, the claim that the “unnatural” is bad.  Second, such arguments presuppose that we can clearly differentiate between the natural and the unnatural.  Are floods and earthquakes natural?  Is disease natural?  Either the natural is not always good, or else we have to adopt a very selective notion of the “natural.”


Proper Intention


A second way in which acts can be said to be good or bad is that they are done for the proper motivation, with the correct intention.  Indeed, intentions are often built into our vocabulary for describing actions.  The difference between stabbing a person and performing surgery on that person may well reside primarily in the intention of the agent.


Acting for the Sake of Duty.  Again, there is no shortage of candidates for morally acceptable intentions.  A sense of duty, universalizability, a respect for other persons, sincerity or authenticity, care and compassion–these are but a few of the acceptable moral motivations.  Consider, first of all, the motive of duty.  Immanuel Kant argued that what gives an action moral worth is that it is done for the sake of duty.  In his eyes, the morally admirable person is the one who, despite inclinations to the contrary, does the right thing solely because it is the right thing to do.  The person who contributes to charities out of a sense of duty is morally far superior to the person who does the same thing in order to look good in the eyes of others, despite the fact that the consequences may be the same in both cases.


Universalizability.  Yet how do we know what our duty is?  Kant wanted to avoid saying duty was simply a matter of “following orders.”  Instead, he saw duty as emanating from the nature of reason itself.  And because reason is universal, duty is also universal.  Kant suggested an important test whether our understanding of duty was rational in any particular instance.  We always act, he maintained, with a subjective rule or maxim that guides our decision.  Is this maxim one that we can will that everyone accept, or is it one that fails this test of universalizability?


Consider cheating.  If you cheat on an exam, it’s like lying: you are saying something is your work when it is not.  Imagine you cheat on all the exams in a course and finish with an average of 98%.  The professor then gives you a grade of “D.”  You storm into the professor’s office, demanding an explanation.  The professor calmly says, “Oh, I lied on the grade sheet.”  Your natural reply would be: “But you can’t lie about my grade!”  Kant’s point is that, by cheating, you’ve denied the validity of your own claim.  You’ve implicitly said that it is morally all right for people to lie.  But of course you don’t believe it’s permissible for your professor to lie–only for you yourself to do so.  This, Kant says, fails the test of universalizability.


Notice that Kant’s argument isn’t a consequentialist one.  He’s not asking what would happen to society if everyone lied.  Rather, he’s saying that certain maxims are inconsistent and thus irrational.  You cannot approve of your own lying without approving of everyone else’s, and yet the advantage you get depends precisely on other people’s honesty.  It is the irrationality of making an exception of my own lying in this way that Kant feels violates the moral law.  Indeed, we have probably all had the experience of acting in a morally sleazy way, of making an exception for ourselves that (at least in retrospect) we know isn’t justified.


Kant’s captured something valuable about the moral life: the insight that what’s fair for one is fair for all.  Yet critics were quick to point out that this can hardly be the entire story.  Consequences count, and intentions are notoriously slippery.  A given act can be described with many different intentions–to cheat on a test, to try to excel, to try to meet your parents’ expectations, to be the first in the class–and not all of them necessarily fail the test of universalizability.


Respect for Other Persons.  Kant offered another formulation of his basic moral insight, one that touches a responsive chord in many of us.  We should never treat people merely as things, Kant argued.  Rather, we should always respect them as autonomous (i.e., self-directing) moral agents.  Both capitalism and technology pressure us to treat people merely as things, and many have found Kant’s refusal to do this to be of crucial moral importance.


It is easy to find examples at both ends of this spectrum.  We use people merely as things when we do not let them make their own decisions and when we harm them for our own benefit without respect for their rights.  Consider the now infamous Tuskegee experiment, in which medical researchers tracked the development of syphilis in a group of African-American men for over thirty years, never telling them the precise nature of their malady and never treating them–something which would have been both inexpensive and effective.  Instead, the researchers let the disease proceed through its ultimately fatal course in order to observe more closely the details of its progress.  These men were used merely as means to the researchers’ ends.


Similarly, we have all–I hope–experienced being treated as ends in ourselves.  If I am ill, and my physician gives me the details of my medical condition, outlines the available options for treatment (including non-treatment), and is supportive of whatever choice I finally make in this matter, then I feel as though I have been treated with respect.  Timothy Quill’s selection in the chapter on euthanasia offers a good, real-life example of such respect in the doctor-patient relationship.


The difficulty with this criterion is that there is a large middle ground where it is unclear if acting in a particular way is really using other people merely as things.  Indeed, insofar as our economic system is based on commodification, we can be assured that this will be a common phenomenon in our society.  To what extent is respect for persons attainable in a capitalist and technological society?


Compassion and Caring.  Some philosophers, particularly but not exclusively feminist, have urged the moral importance of acting out of motives of care and compassion.  Many of these philosophers have argued that caring about other persons is the heart of the moral life, and that a morality of care leads to a refreshingly new picture of morality as centering on relationships, feelings, and connectedness rather than impartiality, justice, and fairness. The justice-oriented person is a moral dispute will ask what the fair thing to do is, and then proceed to follow that course of action, no matter what effect that has on others.  The care-oriented individual, on the other hand, will try to find the course of action which best preserves the interests of all involved and which does the least amount of damage to the relationships involved.


Many in this tradition have seen the justice orientation as characteristically male, while the care orientation is typically female.  (Notice that this is not the same as claiming that these orientations are exclusively male or female.)  Critics have argued that such correlations are simplistic and misleading.  Both orientations may be present to some degree in almost everyone, and particular types of situations may be responsible for bringing one or the other to the fore.

Respect for Rights


Kant, as we have just seen, told us that we ought to respect other persons.  Yet what specific aspects of other persons ought we to respect?  One answer, which has played a major political as well as philosophical role during the past two centuries, has been framed in terms of human rights.  The Bill of Rights was the first set of amendments to the United States constitution.  At approximately the same time, the French were drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.  Concern for human rights has continued well into the twentieth century, and the last forty years in the United States have been marked by an intense concern with rights–the civil rights movement for racial equality, the equal rights movement for women, the animal rights movement, the gay rights movement, and equal rights for Americans with disabilities.  Throughout the selections in this book, we will see continual appeals to rights, debates about the extent and even the existence of rights, and attempts to adjudicate conflicts of rights.


Rights provide the final criterion to be considered here for evaluating acts.  Those acts which violate basic human rights are morally wrong, this tradition suggests.  Torture, imprisoning and executing the innocent, denial of the right to vote, denial of due process–these are all instances of actions that violate human rights.  (The fact that an act does not violate basic human rights does not mean that it is morally unobjectionable; there may be other criteria for evaluating it as well as rights.)  Human rights, defenders of this tradition maintain, are not subject to nationality, race, religion, class, or any other such limitation.  They cannot be set aside for reasons of utility, convenience, or political or financial gain.  We possess them simply by virtue of being human beings, and they thus exhibit a universality that provides the foundation for a global human community.


Criticisms of the rights tradition abound.  First, how do we determine which rights we have?  Rights theorists often respond that we have a right to those things–such as life, freedom, and property–which are necessary to human existence itself.  Yet many claim that such necessities are contextual, not universal.  Moreover, they maintain that there is something logically suspicious about proceeding from the claim that I need something to the claim that I have a right to it.  Needs, these critics argue, do not entail rights.  Second, critics have asked whether these rights are negative rights (i.e., freedoms from certain kinds of interference) or positive rights (i.e., entitlements).  This is one of the issues at the core of the welfare debate currently raging in the United States.  Do the poor have any positive rights to welfare, or do they only have rights not to be discriminated against in various ways?  Finally, some critics have argued that the current focus on rights has obscured other, morally relevant aspects of our lives.  Rights establish a moral minimum for the ways in which we interact with others, especially strangers we do not care about.  But when we are dealing with those we know and care about, more may be demanded of us morally than just respecting their rights.


Morality as Character


It is rare that a philosophy anthology reaches the best seller lists, and it is even more unusual when that book is a relatively traditional work about character.  William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues, however, has done just that.  Staying on the best seller list for week after week, Bennett’s book indicates a resurgence of interest in a long-neglected tradition of ethic: Aristotelian virtue theory.


The Contrast Between Act-Oriented Ethics and Character-Oriented Ethics


This Aristotelian approach to ethic, sometimes called character ethics or virtue ethics, is distinctive.  In contrast to the preceding act-oriented approaches, it does not focus on what makes acts right or wrong.  Rather, it focuses on people and their moral character.  Instead of asking, “What should I do?” those in this tradition ask, “What kind of person should I strive to be?”  This gives a very different focus to the moral life.


An analogy with public life may again be helpful.  Consider the American judiciary system.  We develop an elaborate set of rules through legislation, and these rules are often articulated in excruciating detail.  However, when someone is brought to trial, we do not depend solely on the rules to guarantee justice.  Ultimately, we place the fate of accused criminals in the hand of people–a judge and jury.  As a country, we bet on both rules and people.


A similar situation exists in ethics.  We need good rules–and the preceding sections have described some attempts to articulate those rules–but we also need good people to have the wisdom and good will to interpret and apply those rules.  Far from being in conflict with each other, act-oriented and character-oriented approaches to ethics complement one another.


Human Flourishing


The principal question that character-oriented approaches to ethics asks is the following.  What strengths of character (i.e., virtues) promote human flourishing?  Correlatively, what weaknesses of character (i.e., vices) impede human flourishing?  Virtues are thus those strengths of character that contribute to human flourishing, while vices are those weakness that get in the way of flourishing.


In order to develop an answer to these questions, the first thing that those in this tradition must do is to articulate a clear notion of human flourishing.  Here they depend as much on moral psychology as moral philosophy.  Aristotle had a vision of human flourishing, but it was one that was clearly limited to his time–one that excluded women and slaves.  In contemporary psychology, we have seen much interesting work describing flourishing in psychological terms–Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow are but two of the better known psychological attempts at describing human flourishing.  The articulation of a well-founded and convincing vision of human flourishing remains one of the principal challenges of virtue ethics today.


The Virtue of Courage


We can better understand this approach to ethics if we look at a sample virtue and its corresponding vices.  Consider courage.  Aristotle analyzes it primarily in military terms, but we now see that it is a virtue necessary to a wide range of human activities–and those who lack courage will rarely flourish.  Courage is the strength of character to face and overcome that which we fear.  Fears differ from one person to the next, but we all have them.  Some may fear physical danger; some may fear intimacy and the psychological vulnerability that comes with it; some may fear commitment; some may fear taking risks to gain what they desire.  We all have things we fear, and for most of us we must overcome those fears if we are to achieve our goals, to attain what we value in life.


Imagine people who lack the courage to take chances in their careers.  They desire a more challenging position, but they are unwilling to give up the old one in order to make the move.  Imagine those who fear the vulnerability that comes with genuinely intimate relationships.  They long for intimacy, but are unable or unwilling to take the risk necessary to attain it.  Those who lack courage will be unable to take the necessary risks, and this is the sense in which cowardice is a vice: it prevents us from flourishing.


Yet Aristotle also suggests that virtues are usually a mean between two extremes.  One of the extremes here is clear: cowardice.  But what would it mean to have too much courage?  It is easy to imagine examples.  First, one could be willing to risk too quickly.  Rashness is one way of having too much courage.  Or one could risk much for too little.  To run into a burning building to save a trapped child is courage; to run into the same building to save an old pair of shoes is foolhardy.  Foolhardiness is another way of having too much courage.  Of course, the phrase “too much courage” here can be misleading.  Too much courage in the end isn’t really courage; it’s something else.




Aristotle talked a lot about virtues such as proper pride, courage, fortitude, and the like.  Compassion was not among them.  Yet many today would argue that compassion is a virtue–and this becomes a pivotal issue in a number of our readings in this book.  What would an Aristotelian analysis of compassion look like?


First, let’s define compassion and bracket it between its two extremes, the vices that correspond to a deficiency or an excess of compassion.  Compassion itself is a feeling for our fellow moral beings (human beings and perhaps animals).  It is literally a “feeling with…” an ability to identify with the feelings of another being, especially feelings of suffering.  Moreover, it is usually oriented toward action.  The compassionate person is moved to help those who are suffering, and we would doubt the genuineness of the compassion if it never led to action.  Those with too little compassion are cold-hearted, indifferent to the suffering of others.  Unfortunately, there is no shortage of examples here.  Yet what is “too much” compassion?  Presumably, it is being overly concerned with the suffering of others.  There are several ways in which this could occur.  First, we might be so concerned with the suffering of others that we neglect ourselves and those to whom we have direct duties.  Second, we might be so concerned with the suffering of others that we neglect the non-suffering parts of their personality, turning them into pure victims when they are not.  Third, we may be appropriately concerned with the suffering of others, but we may manifest this in appropriate ways.  If compassion for a child crying in pain during a medical procedure leads us to kidnap the child to save it from suffering, we have expressed our compassion in an inappropriate way.


Compassion has an emotional element to it, but it is not just a blind feeling.  Rather, it is also a way of perceiving the world–the world looks different through the eyes of the compassionate person than through the eyes of the sociopath.  Moreover, it is also a way of thinking about the world, a way of understanding it.  Compassion has to make judgments about the nature and causes of suffering, and also about the possible remedies for suffering.  Compassion, finally, is also a way of acting, a way of responding to the suffering of the world.  Compassion can be both deeply passionate and smart at the same time.  As we shall see in our discussion of issues about poverty and starvation, it is not enough to feel compassion.  We also have to know how to respond to suffering in effective ways that not only relieve the immediate suffering but also help the sufferers to free themselves from future suffering. Compassion needs to be wise, not just strongly felt.


Virtue Ethics as the Foundation of Other Approaches to Ethics


We can conclude this section by reflecting once again on the relationship between virtue ethics and act-oriented approaches to ethics.  One of the principal problems faced by moral philosophers has been how to understand the continuing disagreement among the various ethical traditions sketched out above.  It seems implausible to say that one is right and all the rest are wrong, but it also seems impossible to say that they are all right, for they seem to contradict each other.  If we adopt a pluralistic approach, we may say that each contains partial truths about the moral life, but none contains the whole truth.  But then the question is: how do we know which position should be given precedence in a particular instance?


There is, I suspect, no theoretical answer to this question, no meta-theory that integrates all these differing and at times conflicting theories.  However, I think there is a practical answer to this question: we ultimately have to put our trust in the wise person to know when to give priority to one type of moral consideration over another.  Indeed, it is precisely this that constitutes moral wisdom.


Analyzing Moral Problems


As we turn to consider the various moral problems discussed in this book, each of these theories will help us to understand aspects of the problem that we might not originally have noticed, to see connections among apparently unconnected factors, and to formulate responses that we might not previously have envisioned.  Ultimately, our search is a personal one, a search for wisdom.  But it is also a social approach, one that seeks to discern how to live a good life with other people, how to live well together in community.  As we consider the series of moral issues that follows in this book, we will be attempting to fulfill both the individual and the communal goals.  We will be seeking to find the course of action that is morally right for us as individuals, and we will be developing our own account of how society as a whole ought to respond to these moral challenges.






Stunning Morality: The Moral Dimensions of Stun Belts



Lawrence M. Hinman

Department of Philosophy

University of San Diego

5998 Alcalá Park

San Diego, CA 92110

Voice: 619-260-4787

Fax: 619-260-4227






O.J. was supposed to wear one on the visit to the crime scene, but he didn’t. Along with striped uniforms, they are supposed to be standard attire in chain gangs in several states, although they have been outlawed in others. They are often part of a defendant’s outfit in court and in visits to medical facilities. Introduced in the early 1990’s as a variant of stun guns and stun shields, the stun belt is becoming increasingly popular among prison and correctional officers as a “safe” way of controlling potentially unruly prisoners.


Stun belts raise a number of interesting moral issues, in part because they simultaneously call forth conflicting moral intuitions for some of us. On the one hand, there is something about them that appeals to a sense of what one might call moral efficiency. They hold out the promise of controlling potential violent behavior at the minimum cost: they are very painful and incapacitating in the moment, but according to defenders leave no serious long-term aftereffects. They offer to protect innocent bystanders, such as observers in a courtroom, with 100% efficiency and no danger to others. There are no stray bullets or wildly swinging nightsticks. On the other hand, there is something morally frightening about them. Amnesty International has called for a ban on them.(1) They are so efficient, so implacable, that their power scares us. No one can run from them. There is virtually no contest between the operator and victim. The operator simply presses a button, and the effect is instantaneous and completely incapacitating. Just as the guillotine was promoted as “humane” because of its efficiency and the way in which it reduced suffering, so too the stun belt frightens us with its efficiency and allegedly humane quality.


Let’s begin with a short consideration of the facts of the case: what stun belts are, how they work, etc. Then we will look more closely at the case in favor of the use of stun belts, and then turn to the arguments against them. I will then conclude with comments on the range of situations in which they are morally permissible.


Stun Belts: The Basics


History. Stun technology began with cattle prods and electrified fences, devices used to issue a brief electrical shock to control animals. Stun guns, sometimes called tasers, paved the way for the stun belt, but the operator has to be close enough to the victim to be able shoot the electrodes into him. Stun batons have become the instrument of choice for torture in many countries because they inflict such a high degree of pain but leave comparatively few signs afterward of the extent of the torture. Stun shields were the next step, and they allowed persons in close proximity to potentially violent individuals to protect themselves. Anyone touching the stun shield would experience the same kind of shock that comes from a stun gun. Finally, stun belts came on the scene. They had many of the alleged advantages of the earlier technology with no risk to the operator. Once someone is wearing a stun belt, the shock can be administered remotely from up to 300 feet away.


Stun belts, which are manufactured in the United States by Stun Tech, Inc. of Clevland, have become increasingly popular with law enforcement agencies. Dennis Kaufman, the president of Stun Tech, reports that he has sold over 1,100 to various law enforcement and penal agencies, including two hundred to the U.S. Marshalls Service and one hundred to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.(2) Wisconsin and Queen Anne’s County in Maryland(3) are now using them in chain gangs, joining Alabama, Arizona, Florida, and Iowa.


The Shock. Stun belts administer a shock of 50,000 volts with between three and four milliamps for a period of eight seconds. The extremely low amperage prevents the high voltage from being fatal. The shock, nonetheless, is very painful, and victims are immediately incapacitated. They are knocked off their feet and usually writhe and twitch on the ground. They lose muscle control. There are conflicting reports about whether they also lose control of their bladder and bowels. Two electrodes touch the skin above the left kidney, and apparently it can take months in some cases for the burn marks to heal.


The Physical Effects. Except for the wounds where the electrodes are in contact with the skin, there seem to be few physical aftereffects to being stunned in almost all cases. Indeed, being stunned is often a part of the training program for operators of stun technologies. But this medical picture is far from complete or clear. There is at least one case of a prison guard named Harry Landis who, as part of his training in using stun technology, was stunned twice by a stun shield and collapsed and died shortly thereafter of heart dirhythmia, apparently as a result of the shock.(4) He had a history of heart problems, and there does not appear to be conclusive evidence that stun belts are in fact safe for those who such medical histories. Although one health study has been undertaken on stun belts by Robert Stratbucker of the University of Nebraska that claimed the felts were safe, the study was only done on anesthetized pigs.(5)


Psychological Effects. The psychological effects of stun belts have not been subject to close study, and most claims about these effects are either conjectural or anecdotal. Two types of psychological effects are possible: the psychological effects of simply wearing the belt, and the psychological effects of having been shocked by the belt.


Presumably one important variable here would be the victim’s perception of the belt’s operator. If a person believes that the operator would not activate the belt unless he did something clearly forbidden, then he will presumably experience less anxiety (all other things being equal) than if he believes the operator will activate the belt randomly or capriciously. The underlying variable here is the sense of control. Let me advance a hypothesis which I cannot subject to rigorous empirical tests here. The hypothesis is: the more an individual feels that he can control whether he will be shocked or not, the less anxiety he will feel, all other things being equal. The converse is: the less the person has a sense of control, the greater the person’s sense of anxiety.


If this hypothesis is true, it will be quite difficult to measure anxiety levels in real life situations without subjecting individuals to random shocks—hardly something we want to justify in the name of experimental design. Nor will we gain much insight form individuals who volunteer to shock themselves, since they will presumably retain some sense of control in most cases simply by virtue of having chosen to be shocked. The more difficult cases are, for example, prisoners who, whether rightly or wrongly, believe that their guard might shock them at any moment for reasons unrelated to their current conduct.


Even more difficult to imagine are the psychological effects of stun belts when used for torture. Being in a belt and randomly shocked for days on end could have devastating psychological impact, especially since the belt has an inescapability about it that set it apart even from other forms of stun technology.


Types of Uses. Stun belts have been employed in a variety of situations that we know about. First, they are used in cases in which prisoners might come into contact with the public or have higher than usual opportunities for escape. These include:


    * courtroom appearances,

    * visits to medical facilities and examinations by medical personnel,

    * transportation outside of prison facilities, and

    * work on chain gangs.


In addition to these uses, it should also be noted that stun belts are now being used routinely in some:


    * medium and high security prisons on dangerous inmates.


These various uses cover wisely different types of populations, including persons who are not considered violent criminals. Courtroom appearances may include individuals who are charged with a crime but not (yet) convicted, although they will usually be deemed by the appropriate law enforcement agency to be dangerous or at risk of escape. Interactions with medical personnel and transportation outside of prison include all types of prisoners and those being held for trial. Those who work on chain gangs are typically not high security prisoners, since prison authorities are understandably reluctant to allow such prisoners outside the prison walls.


Frequency of Use. It is difficult to get statistics on the use of stun belts except from the manufacturer. According to one interview with Mr. Kaufman at the end of 1996, “the belt had been strapped to federal and state prisoners about 26,000 times and activated 25 times, including nine accidentally.”(6) The accidental activation number is disturbing, especially if it is seen as a percentage of the total number of times the belt has been activated. The ratio of the number of times activated to the total number of time worn, however, is impressive. What is appealing about this is that it would appear that it works, that is, it reduces the number of times it is necessary to use it. The ideal deterrent, at least from one perspective, would be something that never had to be used. The stun belt seems to be moving toward that ideal.


A Note on Rhetoric. It’s worth noting that advocates of stun technology have a certain rhetorical advantage in the use of the word “stun.” There is a good, everyday English meaning of “stunned” which is roughly equivalent to “very surprised:” “I was stunned when I heard the news that I had won the prize.” Other uses are also innocuous: “What a stunning outfit that is.” But of course this is not the kind of stunning we are talking about here when we discuss stun belts. The use of the word “stun” rhetorically tones down the possibly dire consequences of this technology and the awful pain it inflicts. Just as it is now in vogue for gambling interests to refer to themselves as “gaming” interests, so too the very use of the word “stun” connotes a far better image than the reality may justify.


The Case for Stun Belts


It seems that there are several arguments that can be made in favor of stun belts. Most are utilitarian in character, emphasizing the way in which the adoption of stun belts would reduce the overall amount of pain and suffering in the world.


Minimizing Long-Term Physical Damage


One of the clear advantages of stun belts, at least when contrasted with being hit over the head with a club or shot, is that stun belts minimize long-term physical damage. Certainly some claims about the safety of stun belts are exaggerated, but more moderate claims are very defensible. Several training programs require that operators actually be shocked themselves so that they can appreciate the full effect of the stun.(7)


Minimizing Risk to Unintended Victims


Because the effects of stun belts are limited solely to the intended victims, it seems highly unlikely that anyone else could accidentally be harmed. This is certainly quite a different situation than with guns, water canons, and other such means. And this is certainly morally significant: anything that protects the innocent is, all other things being equal, morally preferable to something which puts them at risk.


Minimizing such risk would apparently be a morally weightier consideration in some situations than others. In courtrooms and medical situations, for example, the risk to the innocent would seem to be quite high and the use of stun belts more justified. However, even in prisons this is a significant moral plus, since prisoners should certainly count as innocent bystanders in respect to the violent actions of some other prisoner. They have a moral right to be protected against incidental violence equal to anyone present in a courtroom.


Protecting Operators


Certainly another moral benefit of stun belts is that they provide a greater degree of protection for the operators than many other methods of control. It is helpful to think of this in terms of a ratio between effectiveness of control and protection of the controller. Other methods, such as rifles, may offer guards a relatively high degree of protection, but they in fact offer them less control. Usually greater control is bought at the price of higher risk for the controllers, but in this case that is not true.


It is important to realize that as a society we ask a lot of those who staff our prisons. They are subject to danger and to a constantly brutalizing environment and compensated relatively little for it, either in terms of money or respect. Stun belts may reduce the risk to those who endure considerable risk in the enforcement of society’s verdicts.


Moreover, prisons run by stun belts might eventually be quite different from prisons as we know them. The present situation encourages a self-selection process in which prison guards are more likely to be people who are attracted to such a violent environment. Some might want to argue that stun belts could eventually restructure the prison sufficiently to attract a different kind of person as the typical prison guard. This could be a person less at home in the world of physical violence.


Eventual Deterrent Effect


If it is true the punishments are more effective when they are administered immediately and with certainty, stun belts offer the promise of a high level of deterrence. Indeed, the claim is that they are so effective that the belts would hardly ever have to be used. Prisoners, knowing that they would experience excruciating pain and fail at whatever offense they were attempting to commit, would simply give refrain from trying to do something for which they would be shocked. The result, advocates argue, would be a prison in which all the inmates obey the rules and serve out their time in peaceful, or at least orderly and non-violent, coexistence. The best deterrent is the one that never has to be used.


If stun belts worked in this way, it is easy to see the moral advantage. Prisons would become less dangerous for everyone, and prisoners would be conditioned—at least for the time when they are in prison—to behave in non-violent ways. They would be forced, or at least threatened, into living in outward manifestations the kind of life we want them to live after they are released from prison. Everyone, it would seem, could benefit from this. The prisoners would be fact be more rehabilitated than they are now; the prison personnel would be safer; and there would certainly be less physical violence and suffering in the world.


The Case Against Stun Belts


Despite the apparent attractiveness to many people of this new technology, there are serious moral considerations that weigh against it. Let me outline several of them here.


The Slippery Slope: The Use and Abuse of Stun Belts


One of the principal arguments against stun belts is not how they are used now, but how they might be abused in the future. Let me sketch out several variations on this important theme.


The Perfect Prison? Imagine the following scenario, which could be a scene out of some science fiction movie about the not-too-distant future. All inmates in a prison are required to wear stun belts. Guards are encased in bullet proof plastic observation posts, and all possible aspects of the prison are made of transparent plastic—an updated version of Bentham’s Panopticon for the new millenium. Bentham, in the interest of creating a more humane prison, proposed that prisons be constructed in a circular fashion around a central guard tower. Guards could look straight through the cells to the outside world since the exterior and interior walls would be transparent. Prisoners, however, could not see one another, since the walls separating them from each other would be opaque. In this new version of the Panoptican, any prisoner who attempts to do something prohibited, such as escape from the prison or rape or immolate another prisoner, would be zapped by a guard.


The scenario sounds eerie and there is something morally suspect about its coldness. Before pursuing this, however, it is important to realize that the contrasting scenario may well be one in which the prisons are largely controlled by the inmates in a form of gang government. This is morally significant, because there is a clear moral difference between choosing between the stun belt scenario on the one hand and, on the other hand, either the gang rule model of prison life or else a model in which prisons are run by the duly constituted authorities. It is an empirical question which of these two models is more dominant in today’s prisons.


This also raises questions about the earlier argument that stun belts could encourage a class of prison guards less at home in the world of violence. However, it could also go in a quite different direction, attracting precisely those who are more at home in a world of electronic domination and torture.


The Possibility of Abuse. The slippery slope is more acute when one considers the possibility that stun belts can be abuse by those in control of them. In prison situations, for example, operators could use such belts (and the threats they allow them to make) for simply sadistic purposes or to coerce prisoners to do whatever the operator wants. Certainly this possibility is already present to some degree in prison situations, but at present there is something like a balance of power. It is misleading to say that the prisoners run the prisons—after all, if that were literally true, they would simply set themselves free. What is true, however, is that the prisoners have a tremendous amount of potential control over the lives of other prisoners. To a lesser extent, there are trade-offs in power between guard and prisoners, such that guards permit certain activities (usually relating to drugs, sex, and gambling) in return for reciprocal favors from the inmates. But in a prison where all prisoners were forced to wear stun belts, this complex power relationship would be clearly upset.


Within the prison situation, the widespread use of stun belts could so immobilize a prison population that it would open the door to two kinds of abuse. First, on an individual level, it might allow sadistically-oriented guards to act out their worst desires without fear of retribution from the prison population—what, in the literature on stun belts from Stun Tech, is euphemistically called “officer gratificaiton.” Second, there is an increased possibility of institutional abuse, a possibility that may be exacerbated as prisons are privatized and become for-profit enterprises. Traditionally, one of the checks on overcrowding, intolerable food, etc. has been the prison riot. If all prisoners were eventually forced to wear stun belts, riots would be virtually impossible. This certainly makes it more possible that prisoners will be subjected to inhumane conditions.


The type of abuse that Amnesty International and other human rights organizations are principally concerned about is even more extreme. It is easy to imagine the effects of such a device in the hands of torturers. Although it would not be different in kind from much of the current torture, it would be significantly different in its degree of effectiveness. Once encased in the belt, a prisoner (or anyone else) would be at the complete mercy of the one who controls the belt. Once such devices are manufactured on a large scale, it is easy to imagine them falling into the hands of torturers.


Other, less extreme forms of abuse are also easy to imagine. Indeed, it might not require imagination at all, just opening one’s eyes. Consider the use of stun belts on chain gangs. Such gangs do not usually have violent prisoners—they are kept under closer control. Rather, they are composed of prisoners who pose much less of a physical threat. A strong case can be made that the primary purpose of chain gangs is in fact political. If Caesar’s wife not only had to be faithful but seen to be faithful, so too our prisoners now much not only suffer but be seen to suffer. They must not be thought of as watching television and lifting weights, but as toiling under a blazing hot sun on some brutally hard task that could be done in a matter of minutes with a bulldozer. If one accepts this premise about the political purpose of chain gangs, then we already have a situation in some states (such as Wisconsin) where stun belts are in effect being used to promote political goals rather than for any legitimate rehabilitative purposes.


The slope becomes even scarier when we imagine the gradual extension of this technology beyond the narrow domain of jails and prisons. What of its use in wartime situations? Imagine, for example, if the United States were part of a United Nations peace keeping force that took a large number of prisoners. Would such technology be justified as a means of controlling enemy prisoners in wartime? On the domestic front, given the xenophobic mood of certain segments of the country, it is not hard to imagine that some might feel such technology should be used in the detention and deportation of illegal aliens. What of hospitals for the criminally insane? What of what used to be called “reform schools” for violent adolescents? Indeed, given the alacrity with which many have been ready to see boys as suffering from hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder, one begins to find some plausibility in Foucaultian visions of society as prison. The final step, of course, is some unscrupulous small group of “leaders” to convince the masses that wearing such belts would be the ultimate protection: such a society would have no crime, no disorder.


The Detachment Effect


Perhaps one of the most disturbing features of stun belts is the way in which they can be employed with relative detachment, and this too threatens to add grease to any slope that is already slippery. Although presumably no one would argue that there is anything morally commendable about clubs and guns, they do differ from stun belts in an important respect: they bring the administrator of the violence more directly into contact with the pain being inflicted. This is particularly the case with clubs. With stun belts, the operator—indeed, the very word “operator” implies a detachment that belies the harshness of the effect—does not come into direct contact with the suffering of those who are shocked.


This type of detachment may well increase the possibility of abuse for the following reason. Stanley Milgram’s studies on obedience to authority suggest that, the more a person was removed from the direct consequences of shocking someone, they more likely they were to administer a lethal shock in compliance with orders. If someone has to put another person’s hand on a plate before a shock can be administered, that person is less likely to administer a lethal shock than if they simply have to push a button. Similarly, it is reasonable to believe that stun belts leave themselves open to greater abuse because those who operate them do not have to administer the violence first hand, as it were.


The Larger Questions


Stun belts are philosophically interesting for another reason: their possible use forces us to rethink some fundamental questions, particularly ones about the nature and purpose of punishment and penal institutions. Oddly, they offer the promise of a certain kind of success—control of the prison population—and that forces us to ask what we really want in a prison. If all we want is an adult version of the child’s “time out,” then the stun belt actually seems to provide a relatively effective means to this end. If, however, we are seeking some kind of change of heart—a naïve and futile hope, in the eyes of many—then the power for domination offered by stun belts is less appealing. They are more likely to produce cowering automata than individuals who have freely chosen to live a reformed life. Whatever motives the stun belt produces for conforming to society’s demands, these motives would seem to have little to do with the values of the common good. Instead, they would simply promote acting out of fear. Once the source of the fear (the stun belt) has been removed, will former prisoners have any motivation to obey the law except the threat of once again being in the belt?


There is another fundamental question raised by the possible widespread use of the stun belt. Earlier, I suggested that there is a balance of power in prisons between the authorities and the inmates. On a larger scale, there is some kind of rough balance of power between the lawful and the unlawful in society as well. If too many people disobey the law, we are as likely to change the law as to incarcerate all the offenders—or at least to ignore most of the offenses. Widespread disobedience or disregard for a particular law establishes a kind of pressure for change, a change in the laws, their enforcement, or the conditions that give rise to disregarding them. A prison system that was vastly more effective in controlling prison populations would threaten to disrupt that balance of power, making it much easier to prosecute laws that would otherwise have been ignored.


Some Moral Recommendations


Given these conflicting considerations, should stun belts be used in our prison system? Let me suggest, on the basis of the preceding considerations, some moral guidelines about what is minimally required in this area.


Controlling Production


It is often argued that it is impossible in the United States to control handguns because there are simply so many unregistered guns already out there that it would be impossible to register or confiscate all of them, or even the vast majority of them. This is not the case, however, with stun belts. At present, the number of such belts is comparatively small and the manufacturers few. This is the moment to act to require that:


    * All stun belts be registered; and

    * Stun belts be sold only directly to penal institutions.


These two conditions offer the possibility that stun belts would not be available to the general public.


Restricting Export


Controlling production in this way might also make it possible to retard the export of such belts to countries where they would be routinely used for torture. This would not completely prevent such belts from eventually finding their way into such hands, but it would at least not permit the United States as a country or its individual businesses to encourage and profit from such eventualities.


Recording Usage


Law enforcement agencies typically require a report whenever a gun is discharged by a police officer on duty. Stun belts should be treated in the same fashion. Specifically, two conditions should be met:


    * Since there is no spent ammunition, they should be so constructed that they automatically record a discharge in some tamper-proof way.

    * An incident report should be filed for each and every discharge.


These two conditions would serve to make the administration of a shock a legally more significant event.


Restricting Usage


Stun belts offer those who control them a tremendous amount of power over those who wear them. Their usage should be confined to those situations in which there is a significant threat to the safety of others and where that threat cannot be contained in other, less onerous ways. This means that they should not be used, for example, as a way of controlling low security prisoners on a chain gang, but that they are quite justified in controlling a violent criminal being taken for a medical exam.


Concluding Philosophical Reflections


There is a deep ambiguity that runs throughout our understanding of punishment: should punishment inflict pain or should it cause injury? Stun belts and capital punishment by lethal injection represent the two extremes of this view.(8) Stun belts claim to offer pain without injury; execution by lethal injection, on the other hand, is the ultimate painless injury. Imprisonment often seems to cause neither pain nor injury. Prisoners, in the popular perception, simply emerges from prison more hardened--literally, with harder muscles; figuratively, with blunted sensibilities. Often time is prison is seen simply as moving from one chapter of a gang into another. According to the popular image, prisoners work out so that they will be physically more intimidating upon their release, watch television, and eat food paid for by taxpayers. It’s a bit like putting a child in time out—but putting him in a toy store for the duration of the time out.


Part of the appeal of stun belts is, I suspect, rooted in the public’s desire to see criminals suffer. It seems morally impermissible to cause them injury (except in the case of capital punishment), so we look for ways of causing pain without apparent injury. Moreover, it seems impermissible to simply cause them pain—after all, that’s just torture. Therefore, there has to be an excuse to cause them pain. The combination of the stun belt and the need for discipline provides the perfect opportunity for society to condone inflicting pain on prisoners.




Abortion: An Overview of the Ethical Issues


Lawrence M. Hinman

University of San Diego



The Rhetoric of Abortion



n          Beware of the labels “Pro-life” and “Pro-choice.”

                     They imply that the other side is against “life” or against “choice.”

                     They ignore the nuances in a person’s position.


The Central Argument


Here is the main argument that is usually advanced against abortion:


                     P1: The fetus is an innocent person.


                     P2: It is morally wrong to end the life of an

            innocent person.


                     C: Therefore, it is morally wrong to end the

            life of a fetus.



The Moral Status of the Fetus


n          Much of the debate in regard to abortion has

            centered around the first premise, namely,

            whether the fetus is a person or not.


n          If the fetus is a person, then it has the rights that

            belong to persons, including the right to life.


n          The concept of personhood, in other words, is the

            bridge that connects the fetus with the right to life.



Criteria of Personhood



n          Star Trek thought experiment

n          Possible criteria

                     Conceived by humans

                     Genetic structure

                     Physical resemblance

                     Presence of a soul


                     A future like ours




Necessary and Sufficient



n          A necessary condition is something which must be present for another thing to be possible--e.g., having your eyes open is a necessary condition for watching television.

n          A sufficient condition is something which, if present, guarantees that the other thing will occur--e.g., drinking a quart of whiskey is a sufficient condition for becoming drunk.



Necessary and Sufficient

Conditions of Personhood


n          Using this distinction, we can then ask:

                     What are the necessary conditions of personhood?

                     What are the sufficient conditions of personhood?



The Violinist Example


n          Thomson offers an analogy: imagine that you

            were knocked unconscious, hooked up to a

            famous violinist who must depend on you for

            life support for the coming nine months.


n          Thomson maintains that you would be

            morally justified in unhooking yourself, even if

            it resulted in the death of the violinist.


n          By analogy, a pregnant woman is justified in

            “unhooking” herself from the fetus, even if

            doing so results in the death of the fetus and

            even if the fetus is a person.



Limitations of the Violinist Analogy


Thomson’s analogy has several limitations:

                     Only covers cases of rape.

                     The violinist is not someone to whom one is related, even potentially.



Jane English’s Revisions


n          The philosopher Jane English amended Thomson’s example.

                     Imagine that you go out at night, knowing that you might be rendered unconscious and hooked up to the violinist.

                     You would still, according to English, be entitled to unhook yourself.

                     This case is more closely analogous to conventional cases of unwanted pregnancies.




The Rights of the Pregnant Woman


What right does a woman possess that would entitle her to choose an abortion?


n          Right to privacy.

                     this is the right specified in Roe v. Wade.


n          Right to ownership of one’s own body.

                     Is ownership a perspicuous category?


n          Right to equal treatment.

                     Men can’t get pregnant.


n          Right to self-determination.

                     Women have the right to decide about their own futures.



Feminist Concerns about



n          See abortion issue within context of

                     history of oppression of women

                     history of danger and death for women when abortion is illegal



Abortion and Racism


Some, particularly within African-American communities, see the call for abortion as a racist, genocidal threat.



Rights of the Father


n          To what extent do the father’s preferences count in making this decision?

                     Mother actually give birth, fathers don’t.

                     Society usually places primary responsibility on the mother.

                     Fathers don’t even always know they are fathers; mothers always do.



Principle of double effect


Four conditions must be met:


                     the action itself must be either morally

            good or at least morally neutral;


                     the bad consequences must not be



                     the good consequences cannot be the

            direct causal result of the bad

            consequences; and


                     the good consequences must be

            proportionate to the bad consequences.



Abortion and Sex



n          Some worry that abortion, coupled with

            techniques for determining whether the

            fetus is male or female, could be used

            for sex selection, which would probably

            result in fewer female babies.



Seeking a Common




n          Points of possible agreement


                     Reducing unwanted pregnancies

                      But: disagreement about the means

                     Guaranteeing genuinely free and informed choice

                     Providing a loving home for all children






The Ethics of Diversity: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Moral Theory



Race, Ethnicity, and Culture



n          Race


                     Initially appears to be biological


                     Eventually is seen as socially constructed


n          Ethnicity


                     An individual’s identification with a particular


            cultural group to which they are usually


            biologically related


n          Culture


                     Set of beliefs, values and practices that define

            a group’s identity




Internalist and Externalist

Accounts of Ethnic Identity



n          Externalist accounts:


                     Ethnic identity is formed by certain external


            events, e.g., slavery, persecution, discrimination;

                     This even fits within utilitarianism


n          Internalist accounts:


                     Ethnic identity is formed by certain shared


            experiences, often of oppression, which bind a


            people together




Responses to the Identity




n          Separatist—seeks to preserve identity by


            maintaining a separate existence.


n          Supremacist—seeks power and


            superiority over all other groups.


n          Assimilationist and Integrationist--seeks a

            common identity, the “melting pot.”


n          Pluralist—preserves particularity in a


            shared framework, the “crazy quilt.”






n          May be:






n          Examples


                      Amish and




                     Orthodox Jews

                     Acoma Pueblo






n          Seeks power and


            superiority over all


            other groups.


n          See Jim Crow laws


            in the United States,

            which tried to retain


            white supremacy.






n          Predominant American metaphor:


            the melting pot.


n          Classic philosophical source:


            Richard Wasserstrom, “On Racism


            and Sexism.”  Wasserstrom argues

            that race and gender should be no


            more significant than eye color.






n          Rejects ideal of impartiality


n          Seeks to preserve and strengthen

            group identity.


n          Sources:


                     Iris Marion Young, Justice and the


            Politics of Difference.


                     Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice.



Pluralism and Multiculturalism



n          Principle of Understanding


                     We seek to understand other cultures before we pass


            judgment on them.


n          Principle of Tolerance


                     We recognize that there are important areas in which


            intelligent people of good will will in fact differ.


n          Principle of Standing Up to Evil


                     We recognize that at some points we must stand up


            against evil, even when it is outside of our own borders.

n          Principle of Fallibility


                     We recognize that, even with the best of intentions, our


            judgments may be flawed and mistake.



Minority Rights



n          Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community,


            and Culture (1989) and Multicultural

            Citizenship (1995)


n          Thesis: liberalism entails minority







The Rights of Indigenous Peoples



n          Compensatory






                     Redress past




n          Rights of















The Rights of Formerly Enslaved




Do we owe a special debt to those who have been forcibly brought to our shores and enslaved?


To their descendants?


How is such a debt measured? Repaid?



Hate Crimes


n          One way of providing special


            protection to groups that have been

            the object of persecution is to


            provide special legal sanctions


            against persecutory acts--in other


            words, against hate crimes.




The Rights of Immigrant Minorities


What special rights, if any, do immigrant minorities have if they have freely come to us in search of a better life?






The Virtues Necessary for Living Well

            in a Diverse Society


n          Lawrence Blum indicates there are


            three virtues necessary for living well

            in a diverse society


                     Opposition to racism




                     Sense of community, connection, or


            common humanity






Understanding Moral Disagreements






n          Let’s look at a framework within which

            we can


                     Situate ourselves.


                     Understand the various dimensions of

            moral disagreements.


                     Decide when we can tolerate moral

            disagreement and when we can’t.



Five Questions


n          What is the present state?


n          What is the ideal state?


n          What is the minimally acceptable state?


n          How do we get from the present to the


            minimally acceptable state?


n          How do we get from the minimum to the

            ideal state?



Developing a Moral Stance


Here’s a way of visualizing these issues:



Current situation >>

laws, other coercive measures >> minimal acceptable situation

incentives, other non-coercive measures >> ideal situation




What Is the Present Situation?


n          In regard to this issue, what are

            the relevant facts?


                     How prevalent is the problem?


                     What are the morally significant facts

            to be noted?


                     Does everyone even think there is a





What Is the Minimally Acceptable



n          What are the minimum conditions

            necessary for a just society in regard to this



n          Here the issue is to determine what

            conditions must be present for society to be

            minimally tolerable in your eyes.


n          Implementation of these conditions may

            involve coercion—e.g., laws and punishment.



What Is the Ideal Situation?


n          What are the ideal conditions

            necessary for a just society in regard to

            this issue?


                     What would it take for this problem to be

            completely solved?


n          Implementation of this condition usually

            involves non-coercive means, since it is

            not morally required of everyone.



How Should We Get From the Present to the

            Minimally Acceptable State?


n          How should we get from the actual

            state to the minimally acceptable

            state?  List specific ways of getting

            from the actual state of society to the

            minimal conditions listed earlier.


                     Examples: laws, taxes, regulations,

            protests, civil disobedience.



How Should We Get from the

            Present to the Ideal State?


n          How should we get from the actual state to

            the ideal state?  List specific ways of getting

            from the actual state of society to the ideal

            conditions listed above.


                     Examples: public relations campaigns, education,

            tax incentives, laws


n          In the area of ideals, there is a much greater

            degree of toleration than in regard to what is

            the moral minimum.






Biomedical Ethics

Spring 1997

Douglas W. Portmore


Biomedical Ethics

Spring 1997




This course has four parts. In part one, we will ask, what is death? Now by this question I’m not asking, what are the biological processes involved in death? Rather, I’m asking, what is our concept of death? In particular, we want know what is the concept of a person’s death, so that we can then know what biological state will best serve as the criterion for the death of a person. Having answered such questions, we will be able to determine whether, for instance, a person who has fallen into a persistent vegetative state is dead or not. And in turn, we will be in a better position to answer some important moral questions, like whether it is morally permissible to harvest organs (or withdraw life support) from patients in a persistent vegetative state.


In part two, we will ask whether death can be bad (or good) for the person who dies. Some have argued that if death is the permanent and unequivocal end to one’s existence, then death cannot be bad for the one who dies. For when death occurs, there ceases to be a subject to whom any misfortune can be ascribed. But, is this right? If it is, then it seems that it could be neither rational nor irrational to want to live (or die). The position also seems to undermine one common justification for active euthanasia, namely, that doctors are justified in administering a lethal injection to certain patients because for some patients death is a good thing.


In part three, we will ask, when is killing wrong? Some philosophers have argued that killing is wrong (when it is wrong) primarily because it deprives its victim of a future worth having. (This view would also seem to explain how death can be bad for the one who dies: death is bad if it deprives one of a future worth having.) But now the question arises whether abortion might be wrong for the same reason most killings are wrong, that is, because it deprives its victim of a future worth having. So, we will ask whether killing a fetus actually does deprive it of a future worth having.


Lastly, in part four, we will ask whether being brought into existence can be a benefit (or a harm). If it can be a benefit, then when deciding whether or not to let an impaired newborn die we need to consider not only the interest the impaired child has in living but also the “interest” the “next child” has in being brought into existence. For, in many cases, the couple in question will only be able to go on to have other children if they are not faced with the excessive burden of raising an impaired child. Also, if being brought into existence can be a harm, then some wrongful life suits have merit.


For the most part, the course will focus on some very abstract philosophical issues. But we will apply what we learn from these philosophical inquiries to real-life cases. Just one of the cases we will consider is the now famous Quinlan case, a case where the parents of Karen Quinlan, a patient in a persistent vegetative state, fought to have Karen’s respirator turned off.



PART I: Harvesting Organs and Withdrawing Life Support

What is death and what criterion should we use in order to determine whether a person is dead?



      The Search for Death Itself, from Confrontations with the Reaper



      Definition of Death, from The Metaphysics of Death



      Brain Death and Personal Identity



      The Quinlan Case, from Classic Cases in Medical Ethics



      The Case of Baby Theresa, from Classic Cases in Medical Ethics


PART II: Euthanasia

Can death be bad (or good) for the one who dies?





    * F. M. KAMM

      Why Is Death Bad?, from Morality, Mortality, Vol. I



      Death and the Value of Life






      Asking for Death, from Rethinking Life and Death



      The McAfee Case, from Classic Cases in Medical Ethics



      Active and Passive Euthanasia


PART III: Abortion

When is killing wrong and does killing a fetus deprive it of a future like ours?



      The Sanctity of Life, from Causing Death and Saving Lives



      Death and Morality, from The Metaphysics of Death



      Why Abortion Is Immoral



      Why Potentiality Matters



      Does a Fetus Already Have a Future-Like-Ours?



      A Defence of Abortion



      The Edelin Case, from Classic Cases in Medical Ethics


PART IV: Letting Impaired Newborns Die and Wrongful Life Suits

Can being brought into existence be a benefit (or harm)?



      Survival of the Weakest



      Rights, Interests, and Possible People



      The Value of the Life of the “Next Child,” from Should the Baby Live?



      Baby Owens: Down’s Syndrome and Duodenal Atresia, from Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics, 4th Ed.



      Wrongful Life and the Counterfactual Element in Harming





   1. The Mechanics of the Course (See the Course Guide).


   2. A Brief Overview of the Course.


         1. PART I


            Harvesting Organs and Withdrawing Life Support


            What is death and what criterion should we use in order to determine whether a person is dead?


         2. PART II




            Can death be bad (or good) for the one who dies?


         3. PART III




            When is killing wrong and does killing a fetus deprive it of a future like ours?


         4. PART IV


            Letting Impaired Newborns Die and Wrongful Life Suits


            Can being brought into existence be a benefit (or a harm)?



The Concept of Death

April 2, 1997




    * Read #3 by April 7.




   1. What is death?: Getting Clear on the Question.


         1. Here, “death” refers to the property of being dead, not the event.


         2. Thus, what we’re asking is ‘What is the property of being dead?’.


         3. The Concept of Death as Opposed to the Property of Being Dead.


   2. Analytical Understanding: The understanding of something which is achieved via an understanding of its simpler parts and their relations.


         1. Using Analytical Understanding in Order to Gain an Understanding of a Certain Property.


            Two Examples:


               1. The Property of Being a Bachelor.


               2. The Property of Being a Square.


         2. Two Necessary Conditions for the Success of an Analysis:


               1. There must not be any clear counter-examples to the analysis.


               2. The proposed analysis must not make use of any term which is as obscure in meaning as the term being analyzed.


   3. The Distinction Between the Analysis of a Certain Property and the Criterion for Determining Whether Something Has that Property.


      An Example: The Property of Being HIV-infected vs. the Criterion for Determining Whether Someone Is HIV-infected.


         1. Differences in What Counts as Success.


         2. The Priority of the Analytical Project Over the Criterial Project.


   4. Five Differences Between the Concept of Death and the Criterion for Death (See Feldman, p. 17).


   5. Is there only one concept of death (universally applicable to all biological organisms) or is there more than one concept of death?


      Feldman asks us to consider the following three sentences (See p. 19):


         1. JFK died in November 1963.


         2. The last dodo died in April 1681.


         3. My oldest Baldwin apple tree died during the winter of 1986.


   6. An Attempt to Give an Analysis of the Property of Being Dead:


      D1: ‘X is dead’ means ‘X has ceased to be alive’.


      Two Problems:


         1. The meaning of the term ‘alive’ may be just as obscure as the meaning of the term ‘dead’.


         2. The Cryogenics Counterexample:


            At noon on 4/1/1997, Scott was cryogenically frozen. A hundred years from now Scott will be thawed and reanimated and will then go on to live for another fifty years.


            P1: Scott has ceased to be alive.


            P2: If X is alive at t, then X was not dead prior to t.


            P3: Scott will be alive on 4/2/2097.


            C: Therefore, Scott is not dead and yet has ceased to be alive.


   7. Perhaps, death is a mystery.



The Criterion for the Death of a Person

April 7, 1997




    * Read #4 by April 9 and #5 by April 11.




   1. Three Proposals:


         1. The Traditional Criterion:


            C1: P is dead if and only if P’s heart and lungs aren’t fuctional.


         2. The Current Medically Accepted Criterion:


            C2: P is dead if and only if no part of P’s brain is functional.


         3. A New Proposal:


            C3: P is dead if and only if P’s cerebral cortex isn’t functional.


   2. How Death Was Redefined (Historical Overview).


          * 1950s: The respirator was invented and perfected.


          * 1967: The first heart transplant was performed.


          * 1968: The Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School to Examine the Definition of Brain Death published its report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


          * 1981: In its report entitled Defining Death, the President’s Commission recommended that all US jurisdictions adopt the Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA).


          * What Did and Didn’t Follow.


   3. Arguments for C2:


         1. Two Biological Arguments:


               1. Given technological developments, C2 is now the most accurate way of determining whether the traditional criterion is met.


               2. C2 is an indicator of the cessation of systemic functioning which is what constitutes death.


         2. A Moral Argument.


         3. An Ontological Argument for the Conclusion that Karen Quinlan Was Dead in 1984.


               1. The Karen Quinlan Case.


               2. The Distinction and Relationship Between “Karen[P]” (i.e., Karen the person) and “Karen[B]” (i.e., Karen the biological organism).


               3. The Main Argument:


                  In 1984...


                      * P1: Karen[P] no longer exists.

                      * P2: Karen[P] was once alive.

                      * P3: If X was once alive but no longer exists, then X is dead.

                      * C: Therefore, Karen[P] is dead.


               4. An Argument for P1:


                  Let “Karen” be a term that can refer to either Karen[P], Karen[B], or Karen[the body].


                  In 1984...


                      * P(I): Karen[1974] and Karen[now] are the same person only if Karen[now] is psychologically continuous with Karen[1974].

                      * P(II): Karen[now] is not psychologically continuous with Karen[1974].

                      * P(III): Therefore, Karen[1974] and Karen[now] are not the same person.

                      * P(IV): Karen[1974] is Karen[P].

                      * P(V): Therefore, Karen[now] is not Karen[P].

                      * P(VI): No one else is Karen[P].

                      * P(VII): If Karen[now] is not Karen[P] and no one else is, then Karen[P] does not exist.

                      * C: Therefore, Karen[P] does not exist.


               5. The Argument Over P(IV): The Mentalist’s View of Personal Identity vs. The Body-continuity View of Personal Identity.


               6. An Argument for P2:


                  In 1974...


                      * P(i): If X is constituted by Y, then X at has all the same properties that Y has, excluding modal properties, temporal properties, and the property of “being identical to x.”

                      * P(ii): Karen[P] is constituted by Karen[B].

                      * P(iii): Karen[B] has the property of being alive.

                      * p(iv): The property of being alive is neither a modal property nor a temporal property nor the property of “being identical to x.”

                      * C: Therefore, Karen[P] has the property of being alive.


   4. Anecephlic Infants: The Case of Baby Theresa.


         1. Was baby Theresa born dead?


         2. Is it morally permissible to harvest organs from anecephlic infants?



Can death be good/bad for the one who dies?

April 16, 1997




    * Read #8, Sec. I (#6 and #7 are optional).




   1. The Epicurean Argument:


      “So death, the most terrifying of ills, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist. It does not concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more.” (Epicurus, Letter to Monoeceus)


         1. Epicurus’s Assumption About Death: If P (a person) is dead, then P has forever ceased to exist.


         2. Why We Should Interpret Epicurus to Be Discussing the State of Being Dead As Opposed to the Transition from Being Alive to Being Dead.


         3. The Existence Requirement:


               1. McMahan’s Formulation: “A person can be the subject of some misfortune only if he exists at the time the misfortune occurs.” (p. 33)


                  A Problem with McMahan’s Formultion: It seems to imply that events which occur prior to P coming into existence cannot be bad for P.


               2. Portmore’s Formulation: For any state of affairs S and any person P, S is good/bad for P only if P exists.


         4. The Conclusion: Death cannot be good/bad for the one who dies.


   2. How Epicurus’s Conclusion Threatens to Undermine a Number of Our Commonsense Beliefs.


   3. The Existence Requirement:


         1. Is it self-evident?


         2. An Argument Against the Existence Requirement:


            P1: If the Existence Requirement is true, then it isn’t possible for events which occur after P’s death to be good/bad for P.

            P2: It is possible for events which occur after P’s death to be good/bad for P.

            C: Therefore, the Existence Requirement is false.


         3. Alleged Examples of Posthumous Harms:


               1. The Scientist on Holiday.


               2. The Deathbed Promise.


   4. Accounts of Well-being and the Possibility of Posthumous Harms.


         1. Hedonism.


         2. The Desire-fulfillment Account.


         3. The Radical Desire-fulfillment Account.


   5. The Reconciliation Strategy:


         1. A Comparison Between a Person Ceasing to Exist (i.e., a Person’s Death) and a Person Coming into Existence.


            Coming into existence can be good/bad for a person even though not coming into existence isn’t something that can be good/bad for a person. Similarly, continuing (i.e., not ceasing) to exist can be good/bad for a person even though ceasing to exist isn’t something that can be good/bad for a person.


         2. An Objection: The Comparative View.


         3. Death is not bad for the one who dies but is instead bad in a “quasi-impersonal” way, that is, death is bad in that it entails the nonoccurrence of that which would be good for a person. Thus, it would be bad if someone with a future worth living dies in the same sense that it would bad if someone who would have a life worth living does not come into existence.


   6. The Quasi-impersonal Account of the Badness of Death and Our Commonsense Beliefs.


   7. Nonprocreation vs. Killing.



Euthanasia: Definition and Distinctions

April 23, 1997




    * Read #12 by April 25, 1997.




   1. Definition:


      Euthanasia -- intentionally bringing about the death of a person (through act or omission) for his or her own sake.


   2. Distinctions:


         1. The Active/Passive Distinction:


               1. Foot’s Way of Drawing the Distinction.


               2. Drawing the Distinction in Terms of the Distinction Between Killing and Letting Die.


                  The Conceptual Distinction Between Killing and Letting Die:


                        Let X and Y be persons.


                        Let C be a causal process leading to Y’s death.


                        Let O be an obstruction which, if in place, prevents C from resulting in Y’s death.


                      * X kills Y if both of the following are true:


                           1. X either initiates C or removes O.


                           2. Y dies as a result of C.


                      * X lets Y die if all of the following are true:


                           1. C is underway.


                           2. X did not initiate C.


                           3. X is capable of preventing Y’s death by putting O in place.


                           4. X knows that s/he is capable of preventing Y’s death by putting O in place.


                           5. X refrains from putting O in place.


                           6. Y dies as a result of C.


         2. Withholding Treatment, Withdrawing Treatment, and Administering a Lethal Injection.


   3. The Voluntary/Nonvoluntary/Involuntary Distinctions:


         1. Voluntary Euthanasia


         2. Nonvoluntary Euthanasia


         3. Involuntary Euthanasia



Euthanasia: Active vs. Passive

April 28, 1997




   1. Rachels’s Position:


      Rachels argues that, in those situations in which voluntary passive euthanasia (VPE) is morally permissible, voluntary active euthanasia (VAE) is also morally permissible--indeed, in such situations, VAE is typically morally preferable to VPA.


   2. The Doctrine of Killing and Letting Die (DKLD): The view that the bare difference between killing and letting die can make a moral difference.


         1. Why We Should Only Consider “Equalized” Pairs of Cases.


               1. Rachels admits that most actual cases of killing are worse than most actual cases of letting die but says that we should not infer from this that the bare difference between killing and letting die is what makes most actual cases of killing worse than most actual cases of letting die.


               2. Six Morally Relevant Factors Which Must Be Held Constant:


                     1. The Effort.


                     2. The Intention.


                     3. The Motive.


                     4. The Severity of the Consequences.


                     5. The Certainty of the Consequences.


                     6. The Extent of Responsibility for the Consequences.


         2. Rachels’s Argument Against the DKLD:


                * P1: If the bare difference between killing and letting die can ever make a moral difference, it will always make a moral difference.

                * P2: The bare difference between killing and letting die doesn’t always make a moral difference. (Consider the Bathtub Cases.)

                * C: Therefore, the bare difference between killing and letting die can never make a moral difference.


         3. Portmore’s Argument for the DKLD:


                * P1: If there are two cases that are exactly alike except that where one involves killing the other involves letting die, and one is morally worse than the other, then the bare difference between killing and letting die can make a moral difference.

                * P2: There are two cases (namely, the Two Rescues) that are exactly alike except that where one involves killing the other involves letting die, and one is morally worse than the other.

                * C: Therefore, the bare difference between killing and letting die can make a moral difference.



Euthanasia: Some Conclusions

May 5, 1997




   1. Justice and Charity:


         1. Justice concerns what we owe one another in the way of noninterference and positive service.


               1. Positive and Negative Rights/Duties.


               2. Justice and the Law.


               3. Justice and the Good of Others.


         2. Charity concerns the good of others.


         3. How justice is more stringent than charity.


   2. The Right to Life:


      It protects the one who possesses it from being killed under certain circumstances. However, it offers no protection from being allowed to die.


      How the Right to Life Has Priority Over All Other Rights.


   3. The Moral Distinction Between Killing and Letting Die: Killing a person under certain circumstances involves violating his/her right to life, whereas letting someone die never involves violating his/her right to life.


   4. Taking a Second Look at Both the Bathtub Cases and the Two Rescues.


   5. Euthanasia:


         1. The Morality of Acts vs. The Morality of Laws.


         2. The Morality of Various Kinds of Acts of Euthanasia:


               1. Involuntary Active Euthanasia.


               2. Involuntary Passive Euthanasia.


               3. Nonvoluntary Active Euthanasia.


               4. Nonvoluntary Passive Euthanasia.


               5. Voluntary Active Euthanasia.


               6. Voluntary Passive Euthanasia.


         3. Should voluntary active euthanasia be legalized?



When is killing wrong?

May 7, 1997




    * Read #14 by May 9, 1997.




   1. Absolute Pacifism -- Taking human life is always wrong.


   2. The Doctrine of the Sanctity of Human Life (DSHL) -- Taking human life is prima facie wrong (i.e., “intrinsically wrong”), that is, wrong absent any overriding moral consideration. In other words, taking human life is always morally objectionable.


   3. Is human life intrinsically valuable?


         1. Glover’s argument for a negative answer:


                * P1: If human life is intrinsically valuable, we should, other things being equal, prefer living in a permanent coma to being dead.

                * P2: We don’t, other things being equal, prefer living in a permanent coma to being dead.

                * C: Therefore, human life is not intrinsically valuable.


         2. Glover’s View -- Life is only valuable where it is a means to a life worth living.


            The Concept of a Life Worth Living.


   4. When is taking human life morally objectionable?


         1. Indirect Objections -- objections which concern anyone besides the individual killed.


            Killing is morally objectionable...


               1. if it causes others grief.


               2. if it causes others to fear for their own lives.


               3. if the person killed would have made some contribution to others had s/he not been killed.


         2. Direct Objections -- objections that concern the individual killed.


            Killing is morally objectionable...


               1. if the process is physically and/or psychologically painful.


               2. if it shortens a life worth living.


         3. Paternalistic Killing and the Right to Life.



Abortion: An Introduction

May 9, 1997




    * Read #14 and #8 (II B, II C, & III) by May 14, 1997.




   1. Three Common Anti-abortion Arguments:


         1. The Standard Anti-abortion Argument:


                * P1: Killing an innocent human being is prima facie wrong.

                * P2: A fetus is an innocent human being.

                * P3: Abortion is the killing of a fetus.

                * C: Therefore, abortion is prima facie wrong.


         2. The Slippery Slope Anti-abortion Argument:


                * P1: There is no non-arbitrary dividing line between a zygote and the person it becomes.

                * P2: It is immoral to kill a person.

                * C: Therefore, it is immoral to kill a zygote.


         3. The Argument from Potential:


                * P1: A person has the right to life.

                * P2: A fetus is a potential person.

                * P3: Therefore, a fetus has the right to life.


   2. Does a fetus have the right to life?


         1. Compare...


            (1) Does a newspaper have the right to be recycled?


            (2) Does a ten-year-old have the right to smoke?


            The Interest Principle: Only that which has interests can have rights.


         2. Consider...


            (3) Does a dog have the right to view the Mona Lisa?


            The Particular Interest Principle: An entity has a particular right, R, only if it has some interest which R protects.


         3. What interest does the right to life protect?



Abortion: Don Marquis

May 14, 1997




   1. Marquis’s Argument:


         1. The Strong Version:


                * P1: The primary thing that is wrong with killing an innocent adult human being is that doing so deprives the victim of a future-like-ours.

                * P2: A fetus has a future-like ours.

                * C: Therefore, abortion is morally on a par with killing an innocent adult human being.


            Problems with P1.


         2. The Weaker Version:


                * P1: That killing a being would deprive it of a future-like-ours is sufficient to make doing so prima facie seriously morally wrong.

                * P2: A fetus has a future-like-ours.

                * C: Therefore, abortion is prima facie seriously morally wrong.


   2. Does a fetus have a future-like-ours?


   3. A Paradox.



Abortion: Judith Thomson

May 19, 1997




    * Read #19 by May 21, 1997.




   1. The Extreme View -- It is never morally permissible to have an abortion.


   2. The Argument for the Extreme View:


          * P1: The fetus is a person.

          * P2: All persons have the right to life.

          * P3: The mother has the right to bodily autonomy.

          * P4: The right to life is stronger and more stringent than the right to bodily autonomy.

          * C: Therefore, aborting the fetus is morally impermissible.


   3. Abortion where the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life.


   4. Abortion where the pregnancy is the result of rape.


      The Famous Violinist Analogy:


          * P1: The famous violinist is a person.

          * P2: All persons have the right to life.

          * P3: You have the right to bodily autonomy.

          * P4: The right to life is stronger and more stringent than the right to bodily autonomy.

          * C: Therefore, uplugging the famous violinist is morally impermissible.


   5. Is the Famous Violinist Analogy analogous in all relevant respects?


   6. The Right to Life, Justice, and Minimally Decent Samaritanism.


   7. Abortion where the pregnancy is the result of contraceptive failure.


   8. Abortion where the pregnancy is the result of carelessness.


   9. The Edelin Case.



The Non-identity Problem

May 23, 1997




   1. The Non-identity Problem:




      Mary and Her Retarded Son Mickey:

      Mary knows that unless she takes the medicine her doctor has prescribed the child she is carrying will be born moderately retarded. Nevertheless, she decides not to take the medicine because she doesn’t enjoy swallowing pills. Predictably, her son, Mickey, is born moderately retarded.


      Jane and Her Retarded Son Jerry:

      Jane learns from her physician that she has a medical condition such that any child she conceives now will be born moderately retarded. Fortunately, the condition can be cured by taking antibiotics for a month. But instead of waiting a month and conceiving a normal child, Jane chooses to go ahead and get pregnant now. Predictably, her son, Jerry, is born moderately retarded.


      Intuitively it seems that what Jane did was just as wrong as what Mary did. Yet, it is difficult to explain why. After all, Jane doesn’t harm Jerry by choosing not to wait a month before conceiving a child. For had Jane chose to wait, Jerry would have never been conceived. And although Jerry may be moderately retarded, he is likely to have a life worth living.


   2. Solving the Non-identity Problem:




      Joan and Her Retarded Son Jimmy:

      Joan learns from her physician that she has a medical condition such that any child she conceives now will born moderately retarded. Fortunately, the condition is treatable. Unfortunately though, the treatment causes sterility. Joan decides to go ahead and get pregnant before undergoing treatment. Predictably, her son, Jimmy, is born moderately retarded.


      The difference between Jane’s action and Joan’s action suggests the following principle:


      The Impersonal Principle: Other things being equal, the best outcome is the one in which there is the greatest net quantity of whatever it is that makes life worth living.


   3. Average vs. Total:


      The Absurd Conclusion.


      The Repugnant Conclusion.


   4. Avoiding the Repugnant Conclusion.


      The Analogue of the Choice Between A and Z within a Life: The Choice Between The Century of Ecstasy or The Drab Eternity.


      Two values, V1 and V2, are incommensurable if no gain in the quantity of V2 can compensate for the loss of V1.



Wrongful Life and the Counterfactual Element in Harming

June 2, 1997




    * There will be a review session on Monday, June 9th from 11-1 p.m. in GIRV 2123.




   1. Harming:


         1. A harms B if and only if A wrongs B in a way that adversely affects his interests.


         2. The Test for Whether B’s Interests Have Been Adversely Affected:


            The Worsening Test: B’s interests have been adversely affected if B is worse off than he was before A acted.


            The Counterfactual Test: B’s interests have been adversely affected if B is worse off than he would have been had A not acted as he did.


            The Doubly Counterfactual Test: B’s interests have been adversely affected if B is worse off than he would have been otherwise in the normal course of events insofar as they were reasonably foreseeable in the circumstances.


   2. Wrongful Birth Suits vs. Wrongful Life Suits:


   3. Five Misgivings Over Wrongful Life Suits:


         1. The Redundancy Objection.

         2. How can there be obligations to people who do not yet exist?

         3. The Comparison Problem.

         4. Is it possible that a person could have been better off never having been born?

         5. How do we determine what compensation/damages should be awarded?


   4. When the Newborn Is Not So Severly Handicapped As to Not Have a Life Worth Living:






The midterm will be held on Friday, May 2nd from 9-9:50 a.m. in WEBB 1100.


Four of the ten questions listed below will comprise the midterm. At the exam, I will indicate which of the ten you are required to answer simply by writing four numbers on the board. I will not be handing out another sheet of questions at the exam. So, YOU MUST BRING THIS SHEET WITH YOU TO THE EXAM. Also, be sure that you DO NOT WRITE ON THIS SHEET as you are not permitted to use any notes during the exam.


Your answers should not be as brief as possible. Rather, they should reflect the full extent of your knowledge and understanding. Expect to write around two to three paragraphs per question. You should explain things as you would to a friend who hasn’t taken the course. This means that you should define any technical terms you use and give examples where ever this would help to illustrate your points--and if you want to receive the maximum number of points possible, you must come up with your own original examples as opposed to just using those presented in the readings and lectures.


You may discuss what you think would be appropriate answers to these questions with me or the TAs. However, we will only answer specific questions. And, we expect that any student who comes to us for help has already thoroughly reviewed their notes and the readings.


(1) What, according to Feldman, are the differences between an analysis of the concept of death and a criterion of death? Give an example to illustrate each of the five differences.


(2) What are Feldman’s reasons for thinking that there isn’t some special concept of death that only applies to people? If one thinks, as Feldman does, that there is only one single concept of death that has application throughout the biological realm, then must one also hold that there is only one criterion of death which applies to every sort of biological organism? Explain.


(3) Assume for the moment that Karen[P] (the person) died on April 15, 1975 and that it is now 1984. What moral significance does the fact that Karen[P] is dead have? Does it follow from the fact that Karen[P] is dead that it is morally permissible to remove organs from Karen[B] (the biological organism)? Explain.


(4) What is “psychological continuity”? Suppose that my grandpa Portmore has no memories concerning the year 1984. Is it possible that my grandpa Portmore at present is psychologically continuous with my grandpa Portmore in 1984? Explain. Is an unconscious person, under general anesthetic, psychologically continuous with the person who checked into the hospital? Explain.


(5) What is the Epicurean Argument? What assumptions does Epicurus make? What conclusion does Epicurus draw from these assumptions?


(6) Explain McMahan’s counterexample to the Existence Requirement, the one involving the collapse of a man’s life’s work. How does Portmore suggest that we can make sense of our feeling of pity for the man without our having to accept that any event which occured after his death was bad for him?


(7) What is the Wide Experience Requirement? How does it differ from the Narrow Experience Requirement? Why does Portmore reject the Wide Experience Requirement?


(8) What is Rachels’s argument against the Doctrine of Killing and Letting Die? What about the argument is most controversial?


(9) How might it be possible that there is a moral distinction between killing and letting die and yet there be an equalized pair of cases (namely, the Bathtub Cases) where the bare difference between killing and letting die makes no moral difference?


(10) As Rachels admits, most actual cases of killing are morally worse than most actual cases of letting die. But does it follow from this that it is the bare difference between killing and letting die which makes most actual cases of killing worse than most actual cases of letting die? Explain. (Hint: See pp. 33-34 of Rachels’s article.)






Instructions: Eight of the twenty questions listed below will comprise the final exam. At the exam, I will indicate which of the twenty you are required to answer simply by writing eight numbers on the board. I will not be handing out another sheet of questions at the exam. So, YOU MUST BRING THIS SHEET WITH YOU TO THE EXAM. The final exam will be held on Thursday, March 20th from 12-3 p.m. Everyone should show up to PHELPS 1260 to begin with. But hopefully we will have another room for about thirty students so that things won’t be too crowded.


You may not use any notes during the exam. So, be sure that you DO NOT WRITE ON THIS SHEET. Besides this sheet, you will need a blue book and a pen. And be sure to write your TA’s name on your blue book.


Note that when I ask you a question like When is killing morally objectionable?, I’m not asking you for your personal opinion. The point of the test is demonstrate your understanding of the lectures and readings, not to argue for your own viewpoint.


Suggestions: Your answers should not be as brief as possible. Rather, they should reflect the full extent of your knowledge and understanding. Of course, you will not receive credit for whatever irrelevant information you provide. Expect to write about two paragraphs per question. Also, you should be sure to explain all relevant technical terms (e.g., “normative relativism”). You should explain things as if you were trying to explain them to a friend who hasn’t taken the course. I recommend that you prepare responses for each question prior to taking the exam.


You may discuss what you think would be appropriate answers to these questions with me or the TAs. However, we will only help you with whatever specific questions you have. And, we expect that any student who comes to us for help has already gone over both his/her lecture notes and the relevant materials from the Reader. Both I and the TAs will be having extra office hours for the week of the exam. Days and times will be announced in lecture.


I will be having office hours on Monday, March 17th from 11-1 p.m. and on Wednesday, March 19th from 10-12 p.m. Note however that I won’t be in my office but in South Hall 5617 (a larger room which is located down a short hallway just to left side of the Philosophy Department Office). This is not a review session-I will only answer very specific questions.


1) Assuming that God exists and that what is right is just what God approves of (and that what is wrong is just what God disapproves of), might it still be possible to take a secular approach to ethics? Explain.


2) Does descriptive relativism entail normative relativism? Explain.


3) If normative relativism is correct, can there be moral progress? For instance, would it be true to say that the way women and minorities in America are treated today is better (morally speaking) than the way women and minorities in America were treated a hundred and fifty years ago? Explain.


4) Bill and Ted disagree about the morality of our current system of capital punishment. Explain how this moral disagreement could stem from either disagreement over the relevant non-moral facts or disagreement over fundamental moral principles.


5) Describe the method known as reflective equilibrium and explain the ways in which it is analogous to the scientific method.


6) Some people object to the use of hypothetical examples in moral philosophy. They argue that since these examples describe situations that will probably never actually arise, they cannot tell us anything about what’s right and wrong in the real world. How might someone respond to this objection? (Hint: There are two responses and you must give both. One response is the one Glover gives. The other response has to do with the fact that fundamental moral principles are about what’s right and wrong regardless of what the facts about our world happen to be.)


7) What is hedonism? Explain why anyone who would not plug into the Experience Machine for even purely selfish reasons should reject hedonism.


8) Explain both Mill’s version and the modern version of the too-demanding objection to utilitarianism. Explain how a utilitarian could respond in each case.


9) Explain why the act of making a false promise supposedly fails Kant’s Categorical Imperative Test. (Hint: Go through the various steps involved.) What about an act is the test meant to determine?


10) What is the Doctrine of the Sanctity of Human Life? Is someone who accepts the doctrine committed to being an absolute pacifist? Explain.


11) When is killing morally objectionable? What does it mean for an act to be morally objectionable as opposed to being morally wrong?


12). As Rachels admits, most actual cases of killing are morally worse than most actual cases of letting die. But does it follow that the bare difference between killing and letting die can make a moral difference? Explain. (Hint: See especially p. 115 of Rachels’s article.)


13) Evaluate the following argument:


    * P1: There are two cases (namely, the Bathtub Cases) that are exactly alike except that where one involves killing the other involves letting die.

    * P2: We make the same moral judgment in regards to each case.

    * C: Therefore, there is no intrinsic moral difference between killing and letting die.


14) Compare the Shallow Pond and the Envelope. In the Shallow Pond Case, we believe that there is a moral obligation to save the drowning child; yet, in the Envelope Case, we believe there is no moral obligation to send the $100. Explain two of the six attempts (given in lecture) to point to some morally relevant difference between the two cases. And for each of the two attempts, give an example which suggests that this difference cannot account for the difference in our moral judgments in regards to the Shallow Pond and the Envelope.


16) What is speciesism? In order to avoid being speciesist, must one treat the members of all species the same? Explain.


17) Explain how someone might use the replaceability argument to justify raising “free-range” chickens for food. Assume that chickens are not self-aware. “Assume also that the birds can be killed painlessly, and [that] the survivors do not appear to be affected by the death of one of their numbers. Assume, finally, that for economic reasons we could not rear the birds if we did not eat them.” (Singer, p.133)


18) What is a “person” according to Singer? Are all human beings persons? Explain. Is it possible for there to be a being which although isn’t human is nevertheless a person? Explain.


19) When is racial discrimination arbitrary? Is reverse discrimination a form of racial discrimination? Is reverse discrimination arbitrary? Give an example of non-arbitrary racial discrimination which is clearly wrong. Give an example of non-arbitrary racial discrimination which is clearly morally justified.


20) When is non-arbitrary racial discrimination justifiable according to Singer.