Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dr. Robert Franklin speaks at Opening Convocation

September 20, 2007

NOTE: Download times may vary according to your connection speed. This QuickTime movie is 59 megabytes.

Extra Credit Book Report Option

Students wishing to earn extra credit can write a book report on John Robbins’ The Food Revolution or his Diet for a New America. The book report should provide a purely descriptive content summary of Robbins’ book: your report should be purely descriptive in nature, devoid of any evaluative or editorial remarks. Simply report the content of the assigned book as fairly, precisely, and accurately as possible. Students who elect to do the book report can have up to 18 points (8%) added to their final average for the course. The exact number of points added will depend on the quality and comprehensiveness of the report. To get the maximum number of points, the summary of each chapter will likely have to be at least a few pages, if not more; so your final review will likely be 30 pages or more!

There is a section of Food Revolution that you may skip, chapters 16-19. That leaves 16 chapters (including chapter 20, the Conclusion) and the Forward. The book report is due at the time of the final, third exam.

Robbins' Food Revolution is a updated version of his earlier book Diet for a New America. Diet for a New America is older, but you could write a book report on that book instead of Food Revolution if you would prefer. The books are similar in many ways, but the Food Revolution has newer and more current information and examples in it. For Diet for a New America, you should do a report on the entire book: no chapter should be skipped.

Both these books are available in many public libraries, at local bookstores, and are available for sale online, often used and very inexpensive. Here is Amazon's page on The Food Revolution; see the links to find it used and cheapest there: also sells used books:

And here is the Amazon page for Diet for a New America, the updated version from 1998:

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Common Arguments on Homosexuality “Mad Libs” Worksheet, available here:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Philosophy 302, Study guide for 1st Exam on Friday October 5.

Everything from Day 1 through and including EMP Ch. 3.

This is available at

If you miss the exam without an approved excuse, you will not be able to make it up.

If you must miss it, you must plan to take it early.

You should be able to answer all these questions and explain the various concepts and arguments below. Anything in the readings, handouts or class discussion is eligible test material. Study groups are highly encouraged!!

RTD, Ch.2. Logic & Arguments

· What is an argument?

· What is a conclusion?

· What are premises?

· What is a logically valid argument? Define ‘validity’ or ‘a valid argument’.

· Give an example of a valid argument.

· Know what the modus ponens, modus tollens and universal generalization valid argument forms are.

· Why is it important for an argument to be valid?

· Can a valid argument have true premises and a false conclusion?

· What is a sound argument? Define 'a sound argument'.

· Can a sound argument be an invalid argument?

· Can a sound argument have false premises?

· Can a sound argument have a false conclusion?

· How, in general, do you show that a conditional, an if-then statement (‘if p is true, then q is true’) is false?

· Identify and give an example of these logically invalid argument forms:
Affirming the consequent
Denying the antecedent

RTD Ch. 1: A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy

· What is moral relativism? What are the arguments against it?

· Be able to explain the basic ideas of utilitarianism, moral theories based in impartiality, and Kant’s ethics.

Explain how the term ‘morally right’ is ambiguous between "morally permissible" and "morally obligatory." To explain this distinction, give an example of an action that is ‘right’ in one sense of the term, and another action that is ‘right’ in the other sense of the term.

EMP Ch. 1:

· Explain, in detail, Rachel’s “minimum conception of morality,” especially his claims that "moral judgements must be backed by good reasons" and "that morality requires the impartial consideration of each individual's interests." (p. 11)

· Explain Rachels’ argument that Baby Theresa cannot be “used as a means.”

· Explain why some people might think that Baby Theresa is already dead. Explain why some people might think that she is not dead yet. (This suggests an ambiguity in ‘being alive’).

· Be familiar with the Jodie and Mary case. What was the hospital’s argument?

· Explain what a “slippery slope” argument or response is; explain how some people gave this response about the case of Tracy Latimer.

RTD, Ch. 12. Will Cloning Harm People?

· Be able to explain the arguments against cloning the Pence discusses and explain whether they are sound or not and why.

· EMP Ch. 2: CR & FGM

· State and fully explain the idea of cultural relativism. If someone accepts CR, what theory does she believe? Be able to explain which of the 5 claims really is cultural relativism, which are logical consequences of it, and which are premises that might be given in arguments for it.

· State a valid argument for cultural relativism from moral disagreements between cultures (“cultural differences”). (Note: Rachels gives a version of this argument that is not clearly valid because it is missing a premise; we discussed, however, a valid version). State whether you think the argument is sound or not; if you think it is not sound, explain which premise(s) is false. If you think it is sound, explain why all the premises are true.

· Be able to give at least 3 valid arguments against CR; be able to explain each premise – that is, explain why someone might think the premises are true (this will often involve explaining why something is a logical consequence of cultural relativism. Explain whether you think the arguments are sound or not and why.

· If you think we should be “tolerant” of everything, should you think that cultural relativism is true? That is, if cultural relativism is true, is it true that we should be tolerant? (You might want to think about these questions also: should we always be tolerant, of everything? If we should just sometimes be tolerant, when should we be tolerant?)

· Rachels argues that, sometimes, there is less moral disagreement than we might think because some moral disagreements are superficial: we accept the same moral principles, but differ in our beliefs about the facts. Explain this idea with an example.

· Some people say that different cultures “disagree about everything, morally.” Explain Rachels’ argument that this is not true, that is his reasons to think that all cultures will share some moral values. What are some of these values that he thinks we all hold in common?

· Female circumcision / female genital mutilation: what do its “advocates” say in favor of the practice, i.e, for why it is not wrong to have it? What do the critics (e.g., the editors at the Harvard Law Review) say against these advocates, and what are their arguments that it’s wrong? Whose arguments are sound, in your view?

· Rachels presents a culture neutral standard of right and wrong. What is it? Explain his idea.

· Even if cultural relativism is false, its advocates might teach us something useful. What are these things, according to Rachels?

EMP Ch. 3: Simple Subjectivism & Homosexuality

· State and fully explain the idea of simple subjectivism. If someone accepts simple subjectivism, how does he or she "translate" moral judgments (i.e., what does someone say when he or she says that something is wrong, or says that something is not wrong?

· Be able to give at least 2 valid arguments against simple subjectivism; be able to explain each premise – that is, explain why someone might think the premises are true (this will often involve explaining why something is a logical consequence of simple subjectivism). Explain whether you think the arguments are sound or not and why.

· Explain what Rachels thinks the general nature of “moral truths” or “truths of ethics” are.

· Rachels thinks he can “prove” that some ethical judgments are true. What are the examples of his proofs? (What does he mean by a "proof" anyway?) Is he correct? Why or why not?

· Be able to state many common arguments against homosexuality (including those discussed in the articles in the RTD book) in valid form (and so add the premises needed to make the argument valid) and explain whether they are sound or not. Be able to state which, if any, premises are false.

EMP Ch. 2 Cultural Relativism:
A “Midas Touch” Morality

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.
  4. On the basis of 1-3, decide whether there are better reasons to accept CR or reject it.

The 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? Yes, that's what their (or our culture) accepts, but they might be mistaken. So what are their moral reasons in favor of this practice? Are these reasons part of sound arguments or not”

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

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), but the core idea is (2): (3) and (4) are implications or consequences of (2). (EMP, p. 18-19). Whether it supports (5), the claim that we should be tolerant, is something that needs to be discussed. And (1) – since everyone accepts it – is not part of CR. Indeed it seems to be a premise in an argument for CR.

3. In light of the logical implications of CR, 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? (see also the discussion in RTD)

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. (What if the premise said all 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) are true (EMP, p. 18-19), including “there is no universal truth in ethics,” i.e., there are no true moral principles that everyone should follow, wherever they are.

Rachels calls this argument unsound (p. 21); we first can be nice and add the missing premise to make it logically 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 (it needs to be expanded to understand it, but are these expansions sound?):

1. We should be tolerant. (Of what? Everything, all actions? Some actions? Which things?)

2. Therefore, we should accept CR.

Some thoughts about (1): If (1) is true and so we should be tolerant of all actions, then there is a universally true moral principle. But if there is a universally true moral principle, then CR is false!

If CR is true, we should be tolerant of a wide variety of actions (even those that harm others) if and only if the majority of people in our society are tolerant of a wide variety of actions (even those that harm others). But our society is not tolerant in this way, so if CR is true, then we should not be tolerant either. And if there are some things that should not be tolerated in any society, then CR is false.

So what should we “tolerate”? What kind of diversity should we be respectful towards?

Rachels’ proposal for a universal moral principle: Actions that promote the welfare of people affected by it are morally permissible; actions that hinder the welfare of those affected are morally wrong.

Important points that CR can help us see: many! See Rachels’ discussion!

  • Some cultural differences do not matter morally. Others do matter: we can morally evaluate them.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Intro to Ethics: Paper 2


DUE Monday October 1 IN CLASS and submitted through

4 – 5 pages, 12 pt font, double spaced, pages numbered and stapled. Put your name, email and class time at the top of the 1st page, and give your paper a “real” title (not “paper 2”).

Your paper should be well organized, grammatically correct, and carefully written: you should follow all the advice you developed for yourself in Paper 1. You should write to an audience who has *not* read the readings or is familiar with these issues, so you need to explain things so that they will understand. And you should try to explain everything in your own words.

First, re-read your paper on how to write a philosophy paper. See the blog for others papers, and re-read Pryor and Horban.

For this assignment, you must argue for – that is, to give and defend reasons to believe –one of these conclusions:

(a) that female genital mutilation is morally wrong, i.e., morally impermissible, or

(b) that female genital mutilation not morally wrong, i.e., it is morally permissible.

To do this, you must explain the nature of this practice, i.e., briefly give the essential factual information about what’s involved in the practice. This should be no more than ½ a page. Your information should come from the Rachels’ text and/or the “What’s culture got to do with it?” article. You do not need any outside sources: this is not a research paper, it is an argumentative essay in moral philosophy.

You must present at least three reasons that are given in its favor, including an argument from moral relativism, i.e., what cultural relativists might say in defense of female genital mutilation. (You must carefully explain in your own words what the moral theory of “cultural relativism” is [note: it is not the list of 5 claims from Rachels, especially the claim that there are cultural differences: CR is not all those claims, it is only a few of them [which?]).

You must state and explain whether these reasons are good reasons in favor of female circumcision or female genital mutilation. So, to explain whether the argument defending FGM from cultural relativism is sound, so you must explain whether the moral theory of cultural relativism is true or not and why. You must give reasons and defend your reasons.

You must state and explain some of the best objections to circumcision / female genital mutilation, i.e., the reasons to think it’s wrong. You must explain whether these objections are good or not, i.e., whether they provide good reason to think that female genital mutilation is wrong or not.

In conclusion, you must explain whether you think the arguments for, or against, female genital mutilation are strongest and defend your views.

If you use quotations, you must use an official citation method. See, e.g.,

You should make an outline to make sure you address everything needed and in an organization that makes sense.

Some writing tips from Professor Nobis:

  • 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. But if you do ask questions, make sure there is a question mark.
  • 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 distractions, and -- most importantly -- improve your statement of whatever argument you are trying to develop.
  • Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is excellent, the section III. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION is especially good:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Reading for Friday:
  • EMP Ch. 2

Reading for Monday:
Reading for Wed.

  • EMP Ch. 3 (on Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism)
  • RTD. Ch. 13: "Is Homosexuality Unnatural? Burton Leiser"
Re-Reading for Friday.

  • EMP Ch. 3 (on homosexuality)
  • RTD. Ch. 13: "Is Homosexuality Unnatural? Burton Leiser"
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Logical Validity

On Monday, you had a quiz where you were asked to add the premise needed to make this argument valid:

P1. The parents didn't want their twins separated.
P2. ________________________________
Therefore, separating the twins would be wrong.

It's important to note that you have seen this kind of argument before.
First, from the Rachels chapter on logic there was this example:

1. Jimmy Carter is from Georgia.
2. All people from Georgia are famous.
Therefore, Jimmy Carter is famous.

Suppose the question were what premise is needed to make this argument valid:
1. Jimmy Carter is from Georgia.
Therefore, Jimmy Carter is famous.

Something like premise (2) above is what you'd need to add. Another that would work is "If someone is from Georgia, then that person is famous."

You've also seen another example from the sample argument worksheet and this argument form from the logic handout:

Universal Generalization

P1. A is P.

P2. All things P are also Q. (Or, if something is P, then it is also Q).

C. Therefore, A is Q.

The Jimmy Carter argument is of that form:
A = "Jimmy Carter", p = "is from Georgia", q= "is famous".
It asserts a connection between p and q, between being from Georgia and being famous. The premise claims that if someone is from Georgia, then that person is famous.

The argument from the quiz is of that form too; it assumes a connection between "p" -- parents wanting something (an action) to be done -- and "q" -- that action's not being wrong. It asserts:

P1. The parents didn't want their twins separated.
If the parents want something to be done, then it is wrong to not do it. or
All things that parents want to be done are wrong not to do.
Therefore, separating the twins would be wrong.

Here's another version of the argument that uses "kept together" instead of "separated":

P3. The parents want their children kept together.
P4. If parents want something done to their children, then it is morally obligatory that it be done. (Or, all things that parents want done to their children are morally obligatory to do).
Therefore, it is morally obligatory that their children be kept together.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Argument Worksheet on “Will Cloning Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer Harm People?”

By Gregory Pence

(1) What is SCNT? (p. 115)

(2) What are the possible benefits of SCNT?

Below are some arguments against SCNT; additional premises need to be added to make them valid; are these valid arguments sound arguments?

Parallels with In Vitro Fertilization: Repeating History

1. If a method of producing children is morally permissible then it yields only healthy children.

2. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible.

3. If a method of producing children is morally permissible then it the children consent to it.

4. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible.

5. If a method of producing children is morally permissible then it is risk-free.

6. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible.

7. If a method of producing children is morally permissible then it always results in “normal” children.

8. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible.

9. If a method of producing children is morally permissible then it results in no harms to children.

10. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible.

Psychological Harm to the Child

11. Parents who would use SCNT have bad motives in creating a child.

12. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible

13. Being produced by SCNT is harmful for a child produced by SCNT.

14. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible.

15. People will be prejudiced against SCNT children.

16. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible

17. “People would not want to be produced by SCNT.”

18. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible

19. SCNT is “repugnant” and “a horror.”

20. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible.

21. Children produced by SCNT will have “troubled psychic identities,” be confused about their lives.

22. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible

23. SCNT-produced children are like children produced by incest.

24. ___________________________________________________________________________________________Therefore, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is wrong, i.e., morally impermissible

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Readings and Discussion schedule:

Friday, September 07, 2007

Agnes Scott College Ethics Program Lecture Series, 2007-2008

Agnes Scott College

Improving Humans: Genetics, Technology, and Ethics

Genetic technologies open exciting possibilities for improving human health and quality of life. These technologies also raise moral questions—for example, about how and how far we should attempt to genetically enhance future humans, and about the moral scope of parents’ freedom to make choices about future children’s mental and physical characteristics. Please join us as we engage these questions of ethics, public policy, and law. All talks are free and open to the public, and take place on the Agnes Scott College campus in Decatur. (Please contact Lara Denis, director of the ethics program, for more information: )

1. McNair Ethics Lecture: Lee M. Silver

Title: “Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humankind”

Date: Monday, September 10, 2007

7:30 p.m., Evans Hall, ABC

This talk is co-sponsored by the Agnes Scott College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Beta of Georgia, through the Walter Edward McNair Fund.

Description of talk:

What does the future hold for Homo sapiens -- our own species? In a thousand years, a million years, or 100 million years, will human descendants be mostly indistinguishable -- physically and mentally -- from people somewhere on the broad curves of humanity that exist today. Or will genetic change lead to the emergence of a post human species, as different from us as we are from Neanderthal man or Homo erectus, in ways that our minds are incapable of imagining. The evolution of pre-human animals into human beings was driven almost entirely by natural selection. But modern medicine and modern notions of human rights could very well call a halt to Darwinian treachery. So does this mean that we are at the end of our evolutionary line? Not likely. With tools of genetic engineering that have already been applied to other animals, and with increased knowledge of the human genome, parents will soon be able to provide their children-to-be with inheritable advantages that could be passed on and enhanced from one generation to the next. The critical question is whether humanity will self-evolve together or apart.

Lee M. Silver is a professor at Princeton University in the Department of Molecular Biology and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He also has joint appointments in the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Office of Population Research, and the Princeton Environmental Institute, all at Princeton University. In 1973, he received a Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1978, he received a doctorate in biophysics from Harvard University. Before arriving at Princeton in 1984, he trained at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which was directed by Nobel Laureate James D. Watson. Dr. Silver's newest book is Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life, published by Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins. Matt Ridley, author of Genome and The Red Queen says Challenging Nature is "imbued with courage, suffused with humanity and written with grace." The philosopher and author Peter Singer calls it "a provocative and sorely needed book," with a "rich array of arguments [that] will force you to think afresh about many cherished preconceptions." Michael Gazzaniga, a leading American neurobiologist and member of President Bush's Council on Bioethics says it is a "spectacular and riveting book that puts those who reason by assertion of prior traditions on the run. [Challenging Nature] makes you think and rethink the most basic questions about the nature of human existence. I say Bravo!" Dr. Silver's previous book is Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family, published in 16 languages. He is also the co-author of an undergraduate textbook in genetics, the single author of Mouse Genetics, a textbook for professionals, and editor of Teratocarcinoma Stem Cells. In 1993, Professor Silver was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In 1995, he received an unsolicited 10 year National Institutes of Health MERIT award. He has published over 180 scientific articles in the fields of genetics, evolution, reproduction, embryology, computer modeling, and behavioral science, and other scholarly papers on topics at the interface between biotechnology, law, ethics, and religion. He has been elected to the governing boards of the Genetics Society of America and the International Mammalian Genome Society. He was a member of the New Jersey Bioethics Commission Task Force formed to recommend reproductive policy for the New Jersey State Legislature, and has testified on reproductive and genetic technologies before U.S. Congressional and New York State Senate committees. He has appeared on numerous television and radio programs including Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, Jim Lehrer News Hour, Nova, Nightline, World Report with Peter Jennings, Charlie Rose Show, 20/20, 60 Minutes, and many others in the U.S. and other countries.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Discussion of Rachels Elements of Moral Philosophy 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 (scientific, empirical) 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?

“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.