Wednesday, September 27, 2006

For Friday, re-read writings on homosexuality.

For Monday, read EMP Ch.4 on the divine command theory of ethics.

I will soon post a study guide for Test 1, which is next Friday.
Some excellent guidance on how to write in a more clear, organized, understandable and effective way is found here:

1. A Rulebook for Arguments -- the final chapters on writing

2. Jim Pryor's guide to philosophical writing.

3. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, esp. these chapters.

9. Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic
10. As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning
11. Use the active voice
12. Put statements in positive form
13. Omit needless words
14. Avoid a succession of loose sentences
15. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form
16. Keep related words together
17. In summaries, keep to one tense
18. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end

Here are some short tips from me:

  • The most common comments I write on papers are these: (1) What do you mean? and (2) Why think that? The first is in response to unclear claims: write clearly. The second is in response to claims that need defense: give reasons.
  • Write in short sentences: if any longer sentence can be broken into two or more sentences, do it because it's easier to read then.
  • Each paragraph should deal with one, and only one, topic. You should be able to say, "This paragraph is about this: _____."
  • Omit all needless words and needless discussion. Your reader's time is valuable so don't waste it.
  • Make sure everything is clear. Use simple words: no need for anything nebulous.
  • Your papers should have a short introduction, culminating in a thesis, a main point, the point that your paper is supposed to defend. The most direct way of presenting this sort of thesis is this: "I will argue that _(short sentence here: 'all abortions are wrong', 'Dr. Doopy's argument against euthenasia is unsound,' etc.___."
  • Your introductory paragraph, or a paragraph immediately after it, should give the reader an overview of what you will be doing in the paper. It should briefly explain the overall structure (e.g., "First I will ___ and then I will ____. Finally I will ______.")
  • Omit anything totally obvious and uninformative (e.g., "This issue has been debated for hundreds of years."). Everyone already knows this, so don't waste time telling us what we already know.
  • Don't write, "Well, _____." No "well's".
  • Don't say, "'Mr. Bubbles feels that this is wrong." Say, he believes, or thinks, or (if he does) argues. His views are probably not his "feelings" or his emotional reactions.
  • Also, no ' . . . ' unless you are shortening a quote. No "trailing off" in hopes that the reader will think what you are hoping they will think.
  • Don't ask rhetorical questions. Make statements, don't ask questions. Your reader might answer your questions for you in ways you'd like.
  • It's OK to use "I". People use "I" to communicate clearly, so use it.
  • "Arguments" are not people's conclusions. They are the conclusions and the reasons they give in favor of those conclusions.
  • If I ask you to raise objections to a theory, argument, claim, or whatever, it's fine to raise objections that are discussed in our readings. What's not good, however, is to raise an objection that is discussed in the readings but the author responds to the objection and shows that it's not a good objection. If you raise this same objection, but do not discuss the author's response (and respond to that response), this suggests that you didn't do the reading very closely.
  • If an author states a conclusion (or a main point) and gives reasons for it, then that author has given an argument. If an author has given an argument, do not say that the author has not given an argument: you might not have found the argument (yet), but the argument is still there! Keep looking!
  • Keep focused and don't argue for more than you can give reasons for.
  • You have succeeded in writing a paper if you can give that paper to a smart and critical someone who is not familiar with your topic and this person will understand the views and arguments you are discussing, as well as whatever criticisms you raise. You can do an empirical test to determine whether you are writing well, and it's basically just to see if others understand your writing! If not, you need to keep working at it.
  • Finally, good writing, like many things, takes a lot of time. If you don't take the time to work at it, you probably won't do very well and you probably won't improve. I recommend writing something about double the length needed and then editing down and re-organizing and re-writing to remove the needless words, irrelevant distactions, and -- most importantly -- improve your statement of whatever argument you are trying to develop.

Any suggestions? Comments? Add them using 'comments'!

Friday, September 22, 2006

For Monday, EMP Ch. 3 on Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism; the chapter also discusses homosexuality;
also read
RTD Ch. 13, article on homosexuality

Expect an exam after EMP chapter 4!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

For Wed., re-read Ch. 2 because we will keep discussing it.

Here are some notes:

Cultural Relativism:

A “Midas Touch” Morality

Today, we want to:

  1. Understand what Cultural Relativism is. If you accept CR, then what exactly do you believe?
  2. Identify and evaluate some reasons that people might give in favor of CR: why might they accept CR?
  3. Identify and evaluate some arguments against CR.

Take home message:

To respond to a moral issue, “That’s ‘their culture’, so you can’t criticize them!” seems to be based on poor reasoning. So, if anyone says this, we will say, “So what?”

1. A general truth: “Believing something don’t make it so!” L J

In general, there’s a difference between:

· someone’s believing something to be the case, and

· something being the case.

There’s a difference between believing a claim to be true and that claim being true. (Examples?)

Also, there’s a difference between:

· the majority of people in a culture believing something to be the case (or some claim true), and

· that thing being the case (or that claim being true).

2. Cultural relativists deny this general principle:

They think that a cultural majority’s believing something to be morally permissible [MP] (or impermissible) makes it MP or not MP.

CR’s think this:

An action is morally permissible if, and only if, the majority of a culture approves of that act, i.e., believes it to be morally permissible.

· If the majority of a society approves of an action, then it’s MP (group approval is a sufficient condition for MP).

· An action is MP only if the majority approves of it (group approval is a necessary condition for MP).

This definition of CR clearly implies Rachels’ claims (2), (3), & (4). (EMP, p. 18-19). Whether it supports (5), the claim that we should be tolerant, is something that needs to be discussed.

3. Why would someone accept CR? What might their argument(s) be?

1. An argument from disagreement

2. An argument from the idea that we should be “tolerant”

3. …. What else?

4. What are some arguments against CR?

The argument from error:

1. If CR is true, then if someone’s moral views are in the majority, then they cannot be mistaken.

2. But someone’s moral views can be mistaken, even if they are in the majority.

3. So CR is false.

The argument from moral progress:

1. If CR is true, then the majority’s moral views must always right (no matter what!).

2. If the majority’s moral views must always right, then “reformers” – who are in the minority – cannot be right.

3. If “reformers” cannot be right, then moral progress – widespread changes for the better, the majority coming to adopt the (formerly) minority view – is impossible.

4. But moral progress is possible.

5. So “reformers” can be right.

6. So the majority isn’t necessarily right.

7. So CR is false. (multiple modus tollens)

The argument from moral methodology:

1. If CR is true, then the way to find out what’s really MP (not just what people believe to be MP) is to do a survey.

2. But surveys will not reveal what’s really MP (they only show what people believe to be MP).

3. So CR is false. (MT)

The argument from the ability to evaluate cultures:

1. If CR is true, then we can never truthfully say that a majority-approved of practice in another culture is wrong.

2. But we can truthfully say that a practice in another culture is wrong, even if the majority approves of it.

3. Therefore, CR is not true.

Other arguments?

4. So what are the arguments for CR?

1. Cultures disagree on the morality of some actions.

2. Therefore, an action is morally permissible if, and only if, the majority of a culture approves of that act, i.e., believes it to be morally permissible.

3. Therefore, Rachels’ claims (2), (3), (4), (5). (EMP, p. 18-19), including “there is no universal truth in ethics.”

Rachels calls this argument invalid; but we can be nice and make it valid:

1. Cultures disagree on the morality of some actions. (T? F?)

2. For any topic, if there is disagreement on it, then there are no universal truths about it. (T? F?)

3. Therefore, there are no universal truths in ethics.

Another argument (is it sound?):

1. We should be tolerant.

2. Therefore, we should accept CR.

Important points that CR can help us see:

Friday, September 15, 2006

For Monday, we will discuss the moral theory called "cultural relativism ." Be very familiar with the theoretical discussion from Ch. 2. (Be prepared for a reading quiz!). SOON I WILL POST A FIRST FORMAL WRITING ASSIGNGMENT RELATING TO THIS TOPIC. THE PAPER WILL BE DUE NEXT MONDAY (NOT THIS MONDAY, BUT NEXT).

Wednesday we will discuss EMP Ch. 3 on "Subjectivism in Ethics." And we will then discuss homosexuality, including Ch. 13 in RTD. (Be prepared for a reading quiz!).
Discussion of Rachels Ch. 1
What is it to ‘Think Morally’?

“Morality is …”

Someone is “thinking morally” or engaged in “moral thinking” when:
(1) one is guiding one’s thought by reasons – the best reasons – and
(2) one gives equal weight to each individual who is affected by one’s actions.

Re. (1): reasons include facts and moral principles

Case 1: Baby Theresa L
· What’s her situation?
· What did her parents want to do? What were their reasons?

The parents' argument:
(3) If we can (a) benefit someone without (b) harming anyone else, it’s right to do so.
(4) By taking Theresa’s organs we can (a) benefit others and (b) not harm anyone else.
(5) So, taking Teresa’s organs is right (i.e., not wrong).

Is this arguments sound or not?

· What did “the critics” say” (p. 2)

(6) “It’s too horrifying to use people as means to other people’s ends.”
(7) “It’s unethical to kill in order to save, unethical to kill person A to save person B.”
(8) “The parents are saying we should kill the baby to use the organs. That’s horrendous!

These remarks are the basis of arguments. Are these arguments sound or not? If any of them are, then argument (3)-(5) is not sound.

Re. Remark (6):
(A) If someone is used as a means to another’s end, then that is wrong.
(B) Taking Teresa’s organs would be to use her as a means.
(C) So, it would be wrong to take her organs.

Is the argument valid? Are the premises true? (Are they somehow ambiguous or imprecise?)

Re. Remark (7):
(D) If person A is killed to save person B, then that’s wrong.
(E) To kill Teresa would be to kill her to save others.
(F) Therefore, it’s wrong to kill Teresa.

Is the argument valid? Are the premises true? (Are they somehow ambiguous or imprecise?)

Re. Remark (8): ?

Case 2: Jodie and Mary

· What’s their situation? What did her parents want to do? What did the hospital want to do? What were their reasons?
o “Whose to decide?!” Asking this kind of question is often a way to avoid thinking about which arguments are best. (Also, it’s often unwise to ask rhetorical questions, since there might be good answer to them).

An argument:
(G) If we have a choice between saving one infant and letting both die, we should save one.
(H) We have such a choice.
(I) So we should save one.

Is the argument valid? Are the premises true?

Some critics say:

(J) If someone is an ‘innocent human life’, then they should never be killed.
(K) Mary is an innocent human life.
(L) Therefore, Mary should not be killed.

Is the argument valid? Are the premises true?

3rd Case: Tracy Latimer
· What’s her situation? (We need to think about the details..)
· What did her parents want to do? What were their reasons?

· What did their critics say?

Take note of:
· Feelings
· Require reasons
· Getting one’s (non-moral) facts straight: checking up on the empirical / scientific evidence
· Impartiality: differences in treatment are justified only by relevant differences in the person/being and in light of general moral principles; otherwise these are unjustified prejudices.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The reading for Wednesday -- "What's Culture Got to Do with it?" is available off the library's electronic reserves; click on 'services' on the right, and then 'reserves'. You can get to the article by searching by professor.

Also, for Wed. read EMP Ch.2.

Wednesday we will continue discussing the arguments from Ch. 1.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

For Friday:

Reading quiz on RTD Ch.2, Ch.1 and the fallacies (invalid argument forms) that we discussed from the Rulebook.

For Monday:

EMP Ch. 1

For Wed:

EMP Ch.2
and "What's Culture Got to do with it?" (See above for how to find it online)

Friday, September 01, 2006

No class Monday due to a holiday.

The reading for Wednesday is available off the library's electronic reserves; click on 'services' on the right, and then 'reserves'. You can get to the article by searching by professor or, perhaps, through this link:
Tom Regan, "Patterns of Resistance"
You might be able to access this only if you are on campus.

Please print out the article, read it carefully, re-read it, and, on paper, attempt to state the arguments given in defense of slavery in the logically valid, premise-conclusion format that we have been practicing in class.

Last Wednesday we worked through some examples of 2 invalid argument forms found in the Rulebook for Argument chapter X on fallacies: affirming the consequent and denying the antecedent.

Here's an example of affirming the consequent:

1. If you are a professional basketball player, then you are over 3 feet tall.
2. You are over 3 feet tall.
3. Therefore, you are a professional basketball player.

Why is this argument logically invalid?

Here's an example of denying the antedent:

1. If you are a professional basketball player, then you are over 3 feet tall.
2. You are not a professional basketball player.
3. Therefore, you are not over 3 feet tall.

Why is this argument logically invalid?

About the terms 'antedecent' and 'consequent': in an 'if, then' statement, the claim(s) following the 'if' is the antedent and the claim(s) following the 'then' is the consequent.